The war comes to hometown America.
Traveling replicas of the Vietnam Wall (officially the Vietnam Veterans Memorial) are being hosted in towns all across America, each time being constructed and hosted by volunteers. On each are the more than 58,000 names of those who gave the last full measure of devotion during the Vietnam war.
It is coming to my town tomorrow, being delivered by the American Veterans Traveling Tribute. In fact, it has already arrived, having been escorted by motorcyclists – the same wonderful people who protect the integrity and dignity of military funerals: Patriot Guard, American Legion Riders, Purple Heart Riders, and others.
For those who have had the privilege of seeing the Wall in person, they will recognize the solemn, heart-wrenching silence that surrounds that hallowed ground in Washington, D.C. For those who see it for the first time tomorrow, they will notice it too. And slowly, unexpectedly, they will begin to hear the quiet melody of never-ending sadness that wafts through the still air, and listen as it grows into a symphony of bittersweet remembrance and melancholy.
Some will recognize names, but most will not. All of them will hear the echoes of those who never came home.
I had the privilege of briefing an Admiral last week, which is something I haven’t done for quite a while. She was awesome.
She also was about the same age as me, and has accomplished more in her career than I could have ever dreamed of while I was in uniform. Not only was she incredibly sharp (she knew as much about our program as I did), but she was also friendly.
There. I said it. The Admiral was friendly.
Shocking, I know. But she impressed me as the type of person I would like to hang out with, which is something most of us don’t associate with Admirals. (Maybe my predisposition to fear Flag Officers it is because early in my career I got sand blasted by a couple of them.)
As I think about it, most of the Admirals I have met have been real decent. In fact, some of the officers who were buddies of mine a few years ago have gone on to make Flag. They still have the same qualities that appealed to me in the first place, back when we were fresh faced junior officers. They are (and were) great leaders, accomplished officers, and had cordial personalities that attracted friends.
They were, when you get right down to it, real people.
Real people with Court Martial convening authority, but still.
Videos aren’t just for jets any more! The submarine force has come onto the scene with some videos of its own. Check them out.
It is a pain that has not faded – not even a little – over the last thirteen years. Shock from what we thought was a tragic accident turned to horror in an instant when the second plane hit the twin towers. In that one terrible second, time stood still as hundreds of millions of Americans shared the common realization that the tragedy unfolding before our eyes was deliberate.
We did not know that our nightmare would continue, but it did. Another plane, American Flight 77, tore into the Pentagon. Only later did we learn about the heroism of the passengers aboard United Flight 93 over the green fields of Pennsylvania.
I still cannot process it all. How does anyone process the horrific images of hundreds of innocent people, who only minutes before were sipping on cups of coffee and chatting with their coworkers, jumping to their deaths from breathtaking heights? How do you resolve the tragedy of the loss of so many first responders who died trying to save others? How do you look at the pictures of military personnel pulling colleagues from the burning rubble at the Pentagon and not seethe with anguish?
The anger is still there. I have tried to forget, to forgive, to compartmentalize the overwhelming sadness; but I cannot. As Americans we mourned, paid tribute and struggled to move on. But still, on this day, the gut-wrenching pain comes back, unmitigated and unfaded by time. Despite our attempts to forget, we cannot help but remember.
We will always remember.
I got an email from Michael, a Navy veteran who has an incredible talent for finding great stories. In this particular email, he included a link to a website featuring my old ship, USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN 73), which immediately transported me down memory lane.
I’m a GW plankowner, and proud of it. (For those not in the know, the Sailors in the first crew of a new ship are called plankowners.)
That first crew was stacked with incredible Sailors and Officers, and led by a capable and greatly respected Captain we all knew would eventually be promoted to Admiral (he was).
The commissioning ceremony took place – appropriately – on July 4, 1992 in front of a massive crowd in Norfolk, Virginia. No one knew at the time that GW would be the first carrier off the coast of Manhattan after 9/11, would be on scene after the massive 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, would be engaged in combat operations for over a decade, or that she would be the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier permanently home ported in Japan.
But we all knew she was capable of those things.
Here is the link with all kinds of cool facts: http://www.gw.navy.mil/index.html.
The history of GEORGE WASHINGTON can be found at http://www.uscarriers.net/cvn73history.htm.