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Nation's Capital Hosts Throngs for Veterans Day Memorials

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 2009 – The nation’s capital today hosted throngs of people paying tribute to men and women who currently or previously wore the uniform of the U. S. military.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Visitors to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall pose for a photo near a plaque commemorating Prisoners of War and Missing in Action on Veterans Day Nov. 11, 2009. Showing in the background on some of the more than 58,000 names of fallen troops etched into the granite partitions of the monument in Washington, D.C. DoD photo by John Kruzel
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

At the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall here, where more than 58,000 names of fallen troops are etched into the granite partitions, attendees of a veteran’s day ceremony placed flowers, wreaths and other mementos by the names of loved ones.

Standing a few feet from the carved granite wall was Daniel Hernandez of Galveston, Texas, who fought in Vietnam 40 years ago.

“I know a lot of people on this wall,” said Hernandez, a former Army specialist in the 1st Cavalry Division.

As a chaplain’s assistant during the war, one of young Hernandez’s duties was to help with memorial services for troops killed in action – from junior enlisted servicemembers to the most senior ranking in his chain of command, including Gen. George Casey, the father of the current Army Chief of Staff.

“There’s joy because I’m here, the joy of being here with fellow soldiers who served,” he said of the day’s event. “And there’s of course the heavy heart of sadness for those that we lost and those that we’ll never see again.”

Designed by architect Maya Lin and built in 1982, the memorial consists of two black walls sunken into the ground, with a rolling mound of earth behind it sloping toward a heavily trafficked street.

On the one hand, the design serves a practical purpose of separating the visitor from the noise and the traffic of Constitution Avenue and the noise of the city. But according to architects familiar with the designer’s vision, the wall also was intended to appear as a rift in the earth.

The memorial was one landmark that retired Army Master Sgt. Archie Ellinger said he wanted to visit before it was too late.

“For many years I haven’t been able to come up here,” said Ellinger, who made the trip from Kentucky. “I’m getting old, and I wanted to come up here and honor those veterans. Before I die, I wanted to do it that one time.”

Ellinger, who served as an aviator assigned to the 227th aviation battalion of the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam, also was in town for a reunion with his battle buddies in nearby Crystal City, Va. But thoughts of those unable to make the reunion were not far from his mind.

“There’s many of them,” he said, referring to names on the wall that belonged to his fellow servicemembers, “probably about a dozen or so.”

Walking the grounds today was a cross-section of military society, from Vietnam veterans wearing leather jackets with POW/MIA patches sewn on, to Gold Star Mothers – women whose servicemember sons or daughters died in war. Soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, where this week tragedy struck when a gunman fatally shot 13 people and wounded 38 others on base, also were recognized in the course of the memorial event.

One surprise guest speaker was Ken Salazar, the secretary of the Department of Interior, who later participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the foot of the wall. Salazer, addressing an audience gathered at the wall, expressed gratitude to U.S. servicemembers.

“Thank you to all of you who are here making sure we never forget those who have made sure we are free in America, and the sacrifices they have made,” Salazar said.

Observing the activity near the wall was Diane Carlson Evans, founder and president of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial – erected 16 years ago as an homage to the nurse corps comprised of female servicemembers who deployed to Vietnam.

As she watched veterans pay tribute to the names of their fallen troops, Evans, who served as an Army nurse during the war, discussed the enduring bond wounded troops have with their medical caretakers even long-after their recovery is complete.

Many years after her service in Vietnam, in an odd twist of fate, Evans ended up in the same town – River Fall, Wis. – as one of the wounded troops she treated during the war.

“We were neighbors for about five years and he didn’t know I was in Vietnam and I didn’t know I had been to Vietnam,” she recalled. The neighbors realized their connection during a conversation about the memorial wall when it was being built some 27 years ago.

“He was wounded in March 1969 and went to 71st evacuation hospital and I was his nurse,” she said. “He remembered he had a red-headed nurse from Minnesota and her name was Carlson.

“And I said, ‘Well, my name was Carlson, I’m from Minnesota and I have red hair,’” Evans said, referring to her maiden name. “And we have kept up a friendship ever since.”

Across the Potomac River, a memorial stands with the express purpose of recognizing contribution of women like Evans. At the foot of the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., where President Barack Obama honored the nation’s fallen today, the Women in Military Service for America Memorial today hosted it’s a separate veteran’s day event.

Addressing the audience gathered inside the memorial was a panel of female servicemembers representing of each branch, including Lt. Hannah L. Bealon of the U.S. Coast Guard.

In her remarks, Bealon said she was inspired by two of her uncles who served in the Vietnam War and wanted to follow their footsteps into service. But upon hearing her decision, one of Bealon’s uncles discouraged her from joining because she was a woman – he suggested instead that she marry a servicemember and reap the benefits.

“It did not matter; I knew I wanted to serve,” she said. “Their life experiences and their long-time friends inspire me to serve my country and to have great respect for Veteran’s Day.”

“To my beloved veterans: Thank you for your service, devotion duty, and sacrifices. You will not be forgotten,” she continued. “For I am your legacy and my children will be your future.”

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Related Sites:
Special Report: Veterans Day 2009

Click photo for screen-resolution imageVisitors to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall look upon some of the more than 58,000 names of fallen troops etched into the granite partitions of the monument in Washington, D.C., on Veterans Day Nov. 11, 2009. DoD photo by John Kruzel   
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