For most of the country, Veterans Day is a pre-Thanksgiving shopping holiday. No matter what your politics, however, spending the day at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial will make you forget all about the Wall-mart, Target, and Sears bargains.
For many of the hundreds gathered on a gray, rainy morning, Veterans Day is an excuse to make an annual pilgrimage to meet with their brothers in arms and salute the fallen. There is little celebration. It is a somber remembrance of an ordeal they survived together: an ordeal those of us lucky enough to be of an age that required no such sacrifice cannot begin to understand. It was striking to see this group — made immortally 18-24 by Hollywood — has aged into their 60s. Those looking for a name amongst the 58,261 inscribed on the wall included not just spouses and children, but adult grandchildren.
The poor weather seemed the perfect accompaniment to the mood. After some speeches, the honor guard played taps, and the crowd dispersed. Some sought to find comrades on the wall, while others filed slowly up the path. As I worked my way through the crowd, stopping every once in awhile to make a photo, I heard countless murmurs of “see you next year.”