The Wall That Heals
The half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall came to Rogers State University last week, brought to Claremore by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. While hosting the mobile exhibit is an honor for any organization, the Wall has a special place in the heart of Rogers State.
From the years 1919 – 1971, Rogers State was the Oklahoma Military Academy and proudly known as the West Point of the Southwest. Alumni from the school fought in both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam. Those who were killed in battle or went missing in action that attended OMA have a memorial on our campus that I pass every day on my way to class. Some OMA students’ names are on the Memorial Wall.
Obviously, I wasn’t born during the Vietnam War. Dad was only three years old. Mom was twenty-three days old. The only connection that I have to the Vietnam War is through my grandpa, Don Ballard, and the most that I know about his service comes from a short research project that I did in eighth grade. Anything else that I know about the Vietnam War is from history books or war documentaries.
When I was on campus last Thursday for work, I still had thirty minutes for my lunch break and noticed that they had a mobile museum set up beside the wall. Without much else to do, I decided to go walk along the wall. It was one of the most sobering experiences that I’ve ever had.
There were veterans there, looking at the museum and recognizing some of the things behind the glass panes. Families were using a tablet to locate the names of family members who are listed on the wall. Some veterans walked along the wall, etching the names of fallen friends after managing to find them on the wall. It hurts to watch veterans searching for their friends. Watching that, it’s hard not to wonder if this is as close as some of these veterans will get to the real memorial.
I finished my last history class (ever!) a year ago. The war documentaries that I watch are just videos on a screen. Vietnam, Korea, both World Wars are just history to me. That’s hard to remember when you didn’t live through these things. Standing there, watching veterans walk along the wall, reminded me that these wars happened to people that are still living and breathing and hurting from the things that they experienced.
The Vietnam War ended twenty-three years before I was born. I was only three years old when the World Trade Centers fell. I wasn’t alive to see how people were affected by the war. I was too young to understand what was going on when the World Trade Centers were attacked. The realization that real people suffered through those moments when they’ve only really been pages in a history book changes your whole perspective. It changes the way that you look things. It changed the way that I look at things.
The mobile exhibit that I visited is only possible through the generosity of the public. If you or someone you know is interested, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund accepts donations through this link.
To All Veterans… Thank You For Your Service!