“Everyone needs a good monument to lean on, for those gone but forever with us — for all the dead beloved who people the space of mind,”*
A monument is a memory–a tangible argument for making publicly visible deeply held feeling and significant thought. That is the meaning and purpose of the Memorial Wall on which 58,256 names of our military, who lost their lives in Vietnam, are inscribed. The total length of the Wall of black granite, brought from India, is 493 feet, 10 incheslong, costing over $4 million, dedicated in 1982.
The three million annual visitors to that site, many who trace the names of their loved ones, bear testimony to its value. Q. So who is to question it? A. Only those who would be insensitive enough to trash a funeral. Yet the hard fact is that this one solemn monument, however filled with meaning, says nothing about the futility of the deaths of those who fought in that war or the horrendous harm done the environment wrought by bombs and chemicals or of the two million civilians killed.
Undoubtedly, millions of us prayed for members of our families who fought in that war. Were these prayers answered? Those, who saw their sons, daughter and loved ones return in good health, would say that prayers were answered. However those could not say prayer was answered who found their beloved return home suffering in mind and body. Nor could the families, who must trace the names on the Wall. So what is the religious significance of the Wall, or for that matter of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, or almost any monument? It should not be to remember only those from our country who lost their lives. Rather it should to make us keenly aware of what happens when war is fought over land. The Memorial Wall stands to make us aware that life is precious and that prayer does not prevent death in battle.
That is the kind of monument we need close to where we live. Because four students shot dead and others injured on our Kent State University campus on May 4, 1970, was precipitated by student protest of the Vietnam War, we have a monument near Taylor Hall where I teach. Also we have a 58,000 daffodils planted on a hillside that, like the Memorial Wall, are in remembrance of those of our military who lost their lives because of that war.
*See Molly Castelloe Fong, Ph.D., in “Lives of Monuments: How monuments and memorials tell our emotional temperature, May 28, 2010, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-me-in-we/201005/the-lives-monuments