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UPDATE: Memorial Day Event/Report

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Great thanks to Ellen Davidson for these photographic memories of Memorial Day

Memorial Day Event/Letters to the Wall photos by Ellen Davidson

 

LETTERS TO THE WALL ACTION REPORT

 

Over a three month period we had 149 letters and 33 postcards sent to us in response to our call for letters. Julie Dobson collected them and printed many of them up until around May 1st.  After that, letters were sent directly to Doug Rawlings, who collected them up to May 23rd. Julie also posted selected letters to our Full Disclosure website and continues to do so up to this date.  Both Julie and Doug put the printed letters in business envelopes marked “TO THOSE WHOSE NAMES ARE ON THE WALL” with an additional request handwritten to “Please Read Me.” Each envelope had the letter’s author’s name written on the left hand corner as a sort of “return address.” By May 23rd all letters were in Doug’s possession.

 

Starting in early March, Howie enlisted the assistance of Roger Ehrlich, requesting that Roger bring his Raleigh, North Carolina based installation ” The Bell Tower” to DC. Under the auspices of “From Swords To Plough Shares,” Roger sought and received a permit to place the Bell Tower on a grassy island directly adjacent to the Lincoln Memorial and about 500 yards from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  He also solicited a number of seats in the Memorial Day Ceremony for Plough Shares and for VFP, along with reserving the honor of placing our own wreath (which his wife made) at The Wall with other groups.

 

At least eighteen VFP members and supporters gathered at the Plough Shares encampment by 10:00am on Memorial Day to receive letters.  Doug had gathered the letters together in groups of ten in alphabetical order by authors’ names, except for those letters that specifically mentioned a name on The Wall. In that case, Doug searched for the panel and line number for that individual soldier. Those letters were grouped by West Wall and East Wall. All letters and postcards were handed out to participants in the action.

 

At about 10:15am, participants proceeded over to The Wall with letters in hand. Some gathered at the west end and some gathered at the east end.  We purposely went over in small groups so as to not call attention to ourselves. The Wall area was relatively crowded and a number of items had already been placed at various panels. At 10:30am, we singly started down The Wall to its center, placing letters and, in each case, touching The Wall in remembrance. After all letters were placed, some of us who were soldiers in the war “walked The Wall” from the panel we entered the country to the panel designating our date of departure. At this point, the numbers around The Wall were swelling in anticipation of the official ceremony, which was to begin at 1:00pm. Action participants remained at The Wall in small groups or singly, and individually dispersed back to The Bell Tower when so moved.

 

At 12:45pm, about ten of us went over to the official ceremony, where designated seats awaited us near where to the wreaths were placed. The ceremony began at 1:00pm with Jan Scruggs officiating. An invocation was read. Eight Medal of Honor recipients were recognized. An official from the post office spoke and then a commemorative stamp of the Medal of Honor was unveiled. A representative of the National Park Service spoke. The director of the Women’s Memorial spoke ( almost all of us found her remarks the most poignant of the day because she acknowledged the idea of moral injury and the epidemic of suicides amongst the veteran population). She announced her retirement during her remarks. The color guard marched across the top of The Wall embankment. A bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” and a bugler played “Taps.” Then a number of groups were called forth to place their wreaths at The Wall. John Grant and Doug Rawlings, two Vietnam War veterans, carried our wreath. After the ceremony, we dispersed back to The Bell Tower.

 

About ten of us went to the Busboys and Poets restaurant and bar to close off the day. Roger Ehrlich and Doug Rawlings stayed at the Bell Tower installment through the night (we had to provide 24 hour security over the two weeks that the installment was up). The Bell Tower was dismantled the afternoon of May 26th.

 

About the Bell Tower: its presence throughout our action was instrumental to our success.  It provided a place to meet, to sit and talk, to gather our thoughts. Its invitation to all passersby to inscribe a memorial statement about war provided us with an opportunity to engage the public and to share our mission to abolish war. And the ringing of the bell each time an inscription was written increased its allure.

 

My only regret is that we did not officially, and as a group, recognize the deaths of Southeast Asian peoples. My initial plan was to hold a silent walk around the Reflecting Pool in their commemoration atnoon. But the realization that we were to participate in the 1:00pm ceremony scotched that idea. We were then to hold the walk at 5:00pm, but by then most people had left the area. So a few of us, individually, performed that deed. We need to work that part of the ceremony into the agenda.

 

Overall, I was very pleased with the action and its results. Many of us revisited The Wall during the day to find people reading our letters. They were still there at midnight on Memorial Day. This, to me, was our twofold goal — to bring people’s words and thoughts to The Wall and then to share them with others. We did not attempt to turn this into a political event nor a media opportunity. We had a service to perform, and we did it.

 

I recommend that we hold a similar action each year for the next nine years. Our goal should be to increase the number of letters tenfold each year (1500 for 2016) and to double the number of participants each year (40 for 2016). And we should make the Bell Tower a permanent part of our operation.

 

Respectfully submitted,

Doug Rawlings

Veterans For Peace

 

 


Dear all: Right now I have 148 letters neatly placed into envelopes with our Full Disclosure logo attached as a sort of stamp. Each envelope has a typed message — TO THOSE WHOSE NAMES ARE ON THE WALL– and a handwritten note — Please Read Me. Each envelope has the letter writer’s last name inscribed as a “return address.” If a letter referred to an individual killed in the war, I put the Panel and line number on the outside of the envelope so that we could place the envelope in the appropriate location. Only one person requested that his letter be sealed, so all the rest are open for visitors to The Wall to read. And what an amazing collection of heartfelt messages are awaiting them.

 

We have letters from veterans who were in Vietnam; we have letters from soldiers who resisted going to Vietnam; we have letters from children of veterans; we have letters from American citizens who joined the anti-war movement and fought for peace here in the homeland; we have letters from some very angry people; and we have letters from people who are still so overwhelmed from grief that they could barely write a paragraph. In a word, we have accomplished what we set out to do — we have brought people together under a common cause — to commemorate the devastating loss suffered by so many during this immoral war. I honestly feel that  all of the letter writers are “Vietnam veterans.” And I think that is exactly what the powers that be do not want us to acknowledge.

 

The myth that is shattered by this humble exercise in community sharing is that those who fought in the war are permanently estranged from those who fought against it.  In these letters are words written by people who sacrificed a great deal either as soldiers or as peace activists. Almost every letter expressed grief — medic letter writers grieve over the lives that were lost in their hands; peace activists grieve because (and this is a constant refrain) they feel they did not do enough to end the war. We are all bound by a deep sense of humanity, of empathy, of compassion that most political pundits seem to lack. We are a family.

 

I will be joined by at least fifteen other Veterans For Peace members at 10:30am on Memorial Day. We will gather at each end of The Wall and proceed down to its center, placing letters along the way. When this phase is complete, those of us who were in Vietnam as soldiers will “walk The Wall” — we will start at the panel commemorating the deaths of those American soldiers who died the day we arrived in country and proceed to the panel commemorating the deaths of soldiers on the day we left Vietnam. For me, that will be a walk of about 25 paces, a walk by the names of about 9800 soldiers.

 

After this phase of the commemoration, we will proceed to Roger Ehrlich’s Bell Tower, which is about 200 yards from The Wall. His “From Swords to Plough Shares” working sculpture invites people into a space to write their thoughts about war on plaques that are then placed onto the sculpture. A bell can be rung for every plaque written.

 

We will gather at the Bell Tower to reflect on the letters we have just placed at The Wall. Those of us who choose to will then take a silent walk around the Reflecting Pool to commemorate the lives of Southeast Asians who have lost their lives during the American War in Vietnam. At various times during the day, passages from the letters will be read aloud.

 

I would like to thank those who worked so hard to make this day happen — first and foremost Julie, who kept all of these letters together (and who wrote a beautiful, powerful letter herself); and Howie and John and Chris from the North Carolina chapter who helped us keep the faith in this project; the VFP board members and National Office staff who contributed their time and encouragement. We will try to do you proud.

 

All the best, Doug Rawlings

 

We in Veterans For Peace (VFP) invite you to join us as we put together a special Memorial Day 2015 service. As many of you know, the year 2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of what some consider to be the beginning of the American War in Vietnam– the deployment of the U.S. Marines to DaNang. The Department of Defense is very aware of the significance of this year and has mounted a heavily funded initiative to make sure that the younger generations of this country see the Vietnam War as a noble enterprise. Included in their efforts is a well-funded website as well as plans for annual celebrations, such as Memorial Day events around the country. They are planning to tell their version of the war for the next ten years.

However, we know that many of us disagree with their perspective, who see the war as, at the least, a grievous mistake if not an horrific crime. As we have already seen, the Pentagon will downplay or ignore this perspective in their narrative of the war. Thus, we in VFP have pledged to meet their campaign with one of our own — we call it the Vietnam War Full Disclosure movement (http://www.vietnamfulldisclosure.org). Please join us in more fully opening up the dialogue of how the history of the American War in Vietnam has to be told. We need to hear your voice. To begin with, we need you to write a letter. A special letter. (Please read some letters received already here.)

We are calling on concerned citizens who have been seared by this war to each send a letter addressing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall) in Washington, DC directly. We are asking you to share your memories of this war and its impact on your loved ones while expressing your concerns over future wars. Direct your words to those who died in the American War on Vietnam.

Our plans are to then gather boxes and boxes of letters from people like you who do not share the sanitized version of the Vietnam War advocated by the Pentagon. In order to bring as many of your voices into this dialogue, please send us your letter and then please send this request to ten of your friends and ask them to write their letters. And then ask them to send the request to ten of their friends. And ten more.

At 10:30am on Memorial Day, May 25, 2015, we will place these letters at the foot of the Wall in Washington, DC as a form of remembrance. As a Vietnam War veteran myself, I share with many the belief that the Wall is no place for political events. I consider it to be sacred ground and will not dishonor this memorial with a political act. The placing of our letters at the Wall will be treated as a service, a commemoration of the terrible toll that war took on American and Southeast Asian families. And as a trumpet call for peace.

Once the letters have been placed, those of us who served in Vietnam will “walk the Wall,” i.e., we will continue to mourn our brothers and sisters by starting at the panel commemorating our arrival in Vietnam and finishing at the panel marking our departure from Vietnam. For me that involves a walk of about 25 paces, taking into account approximately 9800 American lives. But we will not stop there.

We will continue walking beyond the confines of the Wall to memorialize the approximately six million Southeast Asian lives lost during that war. This will be a symbolic act, for if we were to walk the total distance needed to commemorate those lives lost, using the model of the Wall, we would need to pace 9.6 miles, a walk equivalent to the distance from the Lincoln Memorial to Chevy Chase, Maryland. Nevertheless, we will carry the memory of those lives as best we can.

If you wish to submit a letter that will be delivered to the Wall on Memorial Day, please send it to vncom50@gmail.com (with the subject line: Memorial Day 2015) or by snail mail to Attn: Full Disclosure, Veterans For Peace, 409 Ferguson Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27516 by May 1, 2015. Email letters will be printed out and placed in envelopes. Unless you indicate that you want your letter shared with the public, the contents of your letter will remain confidential and will not be used for any purpose other than placement at the Wall. If you do want us to offer your letter as a form of public witness, we will share it with others by posting it on a special section of our website. A select few may be read at the Wall on Memorial Day.

If you wish to physically join us on May 25th, please let us know beforehand by contacting us at the above addresses. Please stay in touch with us by visiting http://www.vietnamfulldisclosure.org/. And if you wish to make a donation to help us defray the costs of our action, feel free to do so by sending a check to the Vietnam Full Disclosure committee at Full Disclosure, Veterans For Peace, 409 Ferguson Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27516.

Since I will be coordinating this effort on behalf of Veterans For Peace, I will be happy to hear your suggestions on how we can make this event a more meaningful statement about the American War in Vietnam. You may reach me at rawlings@maine.edu.

Thank you in advance for writing your letter. For joining in on the dialogue. For working for peace.

Best, Doug Rawlings

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