Visiting a war memorial the first time after war

Sometimes, immediately following war, little things can have an unexpectedly profound effect. Pretty much everywhere now that I go, there’s a veteran’s memorial of some kind. Even when I take a drive trip down to Richmond, Virginia, I can find a small war memorial at a rest stop.

But in 1991, that wasn’t the case. People were just peeling away the layers of the onion about the Vietnam War. Shows like Magnum PI, The A Team, and Airwolf explored veterans after the war, and China Beach and Tour of Duty explored the war itself.

In 1982, the Vietnam Memorial, or “The Wall,” in Washington, DC was completed.  Washington State followed that up with their own memorial, completed in 1987.

So I’d actually never been to one before Desert Storm.

Nor did I plan to go to one. It was purely accidental, but maybe fate has some things happen for when they do and for a reason.

Washington State Vietnam Memorial

Olympia, the Capitol of Washington, was about twenty miles from Fort Lewis. I could say I liked the city and the sites, but the truth was that it was far enough away from the military that I could escape.

The state Capitol is located on a patch of land called a “campus.” The first time I went there I thought it was a school, but I suppose it’s no stranger than a “mall,” which is what the area around the U.S. Capitol is called.

I was just sort of wandering, and I followed the sidewalk to see where it would take me. This black wall came into view. Though I’d never seen The Wall at Washington, DC, I knew immediately this was a war memorial similar to that. This wall had a designed crack on the left side and was surprisingly small.

As I crossed an invisible boundary, it felt like a thousand voices whispered to me at once, “Welcome.” Then they fell silent, but their presence still made the air shiver.

And I looked at the wall, at the names listed, and my eyes went right to one name that jumped out at me.

It was a woman.

I left the memorial feeling both connected to my brothers and sisters at arms, and shaken because it was a very visual reminder. It could have happened to me.

Over 40,000 women were deployed to Desert Storm.  Fifteen didn’t come home.