On a sunlit Saturday in May, Kansas City’s Liberty Memorial was blessed to host the presence of the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall, a 4/5 scale replica of the actual memorial in Washington, D.C.
Many people were there simply to pay their respects and to commemorate Memorial Day.
The wall’s bare inscriptions of the names of the 58,303 Americans who died during the Vietnam War were a stark and painful reminder of the costs of war and the sacrifice given by loyal citizens and their families.
As was the case during my first trip to the actual memorial in our nation’s capital, I experienced again at the Traveling Wall on Memorial Day a deep recognition of the impact of the Vietnam War on multiple generations of Americans and the need for healing and hope, most especially for our veterans and their families.
And, as with my first visit to the actual wall, so with this visit I saw my own name, right at the midway point of the wall, about shoulder high.
The name inscribed was actually “Robert M Hill,” but the different middle initial did not blunt my shock.
Through a quick internet search, I came to discover that the “Robert Hill” on the wall was from Starkville, Mississippi, and that he died at the age of 24, at Pleiku, on November 15, 1965, almost three months to the day from when he began his tour of duty.
I also learned that his “Casualty Type” was “Hostile” and that he “died outright,” meaning that whatever suffering he might have encountered was hopefully minimal.
Seeing my own face reflected back at me with my name on the wall, I realized, we all face ourselves and our relationship to the war through those remembered there.
And I knew, with a new and unrelenting urgency, that we all have an abiding stake in what happens to each and every person whom our nation ever sends into harm’s way.
As I walked away from the Traveling Wall, I offered a silent prayer, a prayer that was, as the war was, complicated, full of poignant thanks for those who so willingly served, anguished grief over the collective blundering that resulted in so many deaths, and resolve to help, as best I can, those who remain and those still coming home from further wars.
– Bob Hill
[From ALL YOU NEED IS (MORE) LOVE (Caroline Street Press, 2019), pp. 178-179.]