A reminder on the way

Published 9:41 pm Tuesday, July 6, 2010

As war memorials go, it surely ranks as one of the simplest. There are no sculptures, there is no overt symbolism. There are just names — 58,261 of them — etched into polished black granite panels sitting side by side in a depression near the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Nonetheless, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall is among the most powerfully moving of man’s memorials to lost soldiers. The simplicity of names etched in chronological order of death is a powerful testament to the cost of war. The memorial itself makes no political statement. But the sheer number of those names can be a testament either to the high cost of freedom or to the ultimate folly of war, depending on one’s own existing prejudices.

Since it was completed in 1982, the Wall has been a place of healing and a place of mourning, a place that encouraged both protest and sacrifice. In a way that is perhaps singular among war memorials, it has been a focal point for those who lost loved ones in Vietnam, as well as for those who served there.

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A traveling version of the Wall memorial will be coming to Suffolk in October, its visit the gift of R.W. Baker Funeral Home, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. During the span of four days, the 80-percent scale model will be open for visitors to see at Bennett’s Creek Park.

As close as Suffolk is to Washington, D.C., it’s likely that most veterans and others who were directly touched by the War in Vietnam already would have visited the memorial in person. But there is a significant number of people in Suffolk and the surrounding area who were not around for that war and thus might not make the memorial one of their stops in visits to the nation’s capital.

Those folks, including thousands of schoolchildren throughout Hampton Roads, will have an opportunity in October to learn something of a bitter, but important, time in American history. They can learn something of freedom, something of self-sacrifice and something of folly.

Most important, tens of thousands of people from Suffolk and the surrounding communities will be reminded of 58,261 young men and women who died in service to their nation. Such reminders are especially important as our nation’s sons and daughters once again face foes in battles on the other side of the globe.

To honor, we must remember. To remember, sometimes we need to be reminded.