I watched them from a distance as they made their way along the wall, pensive, with some dread on their faces. Their sad eyes indicated they were fearful of what they would see yet a spark of purpose masked some of the fear. A single red rose bobbed securely from her right hand and in her left was a handkerchief and a small flag. A piece of paper fluttered languidly in his left hand while his right held a large piece of charcoal colored chalk. The sun beat relentlessly down upon their heads, sweat glistened on their wrinkled care worn brows. Humidity held them in its clammy clutches like a hot towel just out of the dryer.
Their tired and sad eyes were searching, scanning the wall and the diagram they had. Slowly with trepidation they moved through the hushed and solemn crowd; eyes riveted on the obsidian colored wall. Suddenly his face softened, his red-rimmed eyes filled and he choked, "There he is. Our boy." He reached out and touched a name chiseled on the Vietnam War Memorial; a name that meant more to him than any other that day. He began to wail openly. She silently wept but her grief engulfed her and she broke into rolling sobs as she leaned against her husband for support. They clutched each other. The handkerchief dabbed at her eyes as she shook with grief and pain. She reached out with the rose and touched the name. I joined others in the crowd as we silently surrounded the grief stricken couple placing our hands on their shoulders and encircled them with loving arms striving to give them strength in their sorrow. Everyone was weeping.
After a time of solace, they began to talk quietly about their boy and what he meant to their lives. How they missed having him home for Christmas and Thanksgiving, mother's day and father's day. They talked of his plans to become a teacher after proudly serving his country in a land so far away. They spoke of the empty chair they kept at the dinner table hoping that one day he would return and join the family again; now is a constant reminder that he would never return. Of how proud they were of his willingness to serve his country.
The father held a piece of tracing paper over his son's name and rubbed it with the charcoal to take home as a reminder of their boy. She placed the rose and the flag on the ground under his name and then with bowed shoulders carrying almost more grief and sorrow they could bear they moved away. Their faces displayed an astonishing dignity, pride and honor knowing their son had given the last full measure of devotion to his country.
That scene played out many years ago when we were visiting the Vietnam War Memorial. I think of that couple every Independence Day and Memorial Day. I conjecture they have since been reunited with their son in the great beyond and I remember that since 1776 "The Eternal Price of Liberty is Vigilance" and "Freedom is Not Free."
Larry grew up north of Calvertville on a farm and graduated from Worthington High School and Indiana State University. He can be reached at Goosecrick@aol.com or (317) 839-7656. Write him at 6860 Sunrise Drive, Plainfield, Ind., 46168. He has written five books.