When I was in middle school my Girl Scout troop went to Washington, D.C. on our big trip of the year. My mother, who got to attend with me, could not be more excited. I will admit I was a total dork even as a kid, and I really did enjoy the trip—but it was very heavy on the history (this is probably why I’m so incredibly interested in learning about wars and history, go figure, oh Girl Scouts). We spent a week traveling to every monument, every museum, and every historical site in Washington; you can imagine there are a lot. By the end of the trip I was pretty much over it—I know this because my smile in photos went from “Yay, I’m so happy to be here,” to, “Ma, if you take one more picture I’m smashing your camera.” Regardless, I really did learn a lot.
Growing up in my house, with a father who is completely patriotic (I’m talking like an entire half of his body and most of his back is a shrine to all things patriotic—a tattered American flag, a bald eagle, his newest installment to his ink, the Twin Towers), I’ve always been told that you do not have to agree with any war, but you do need to respect and admire those who fight for our freedom. I knew that when I was the Girl Scout in D.C. and I know that now. However, I don’t think I truly understood what that meant until this evening. While in Washington, one of the places we visited was the Vietnam Wall memorial. My mom told me dozens of times that we needed to find her uncle’s name. I can remember holding the black chalk in my hand and rubbing it over his name to bring home to my nana– he was her brother. I understood the meaning behind it, but until now, 10 years later, I don’t think I really grasped it.
As I said, I’m interning for the Herald. This week, my editor asked me if I’d like to attend the “Moving Wall” ceremony tonight. The “Moving Wall” is a replica of the Vietnam Wall which is moved from community to community (over 2,000 communities at this point), as a way for those who have not had the chance to visit Washington, to remember our heroes. As I sat there surrounded by members of my community, I was truly amazed at the emotion I felt. Here I was sitting on the bleachers of Greis Park, a field in which I had played countless soccer games growing up, and ran around in the sprinklers in during my brother’s hockey games; now though, I was sitting there watching something entirely different unfold. The Event Chairman, Nicholas Camarano, talked about how amazing it was to see Lynbrook come together, and as I looked around at the faces of my community, and the faces of the veterans, I thought to myself, ‘wow, this is absolutely amazing.’
When our Mayor, Brian Curran, took the stage, he reminded us to remember not just our war dead, but those who returned home. He recalled the fact that these men and women received no welcome celebration and received little recognition. It led me to think of what I’d learned in history over and over, that Americans fought against the war in Vietnam, didn’t believe in it—all the while these men and women were fighting in the name of our freedom. When I wrote my final paper in the fall for my American history class, I wrote about Vietnam, and how I felt it was incredibly similar to the war we are fighting now. I thought I sounded intelligent, as I went on about how Americans then and now fought against the war, and didn’t believe in it. Now I just feel ignorant. These men and women, some as young as I am, are risking their lives day in and day out to fight for me, to fight for my freedom. If you ask me, that is something truly remarkable.
I know what a patriotic man looks like, I see my dad every single day; but to see grown men’s eyes fill with tears as they stood near the wall, or as they listened to our National Anthem, that was something truly special to me. Because I had my camera out and my notepad in hand, I got to stick around and talk to my Mayor about the event, and more importantly, to talk to the veterans. I spoke with a man who served in Vietnam twice; he was so grateful and so amazed at the warm welcome and embrace the wall received from my community. I think I thanked him at least 50 times, because I was so amazed by him, I wasn’t sure what else to say.
I spoke with another man, a veteran right from Lynbrook, and he looked at me and said, “58,000 people died in that war. If you want freedom, somebody has to fight for it, and this is the result.” And as he pointed at the wall, I myself couldn’t help but tear up.
I am so incredibly thankful that Lynbrook did this. This is such an important piece of history. Sure, I’d seen it years ago in D.C., but seeing it here, in my field, just changed it for me. Look at the pictures, and hey, maybe I’ll get the article I wrote a little bit ago published in next week’s paper (that’d be awesome, huh?). You can surely see what a remarkable event this was. The wall will be here all weekend, I will most definitely be bringing my dad tomorrow night, since he isn’t working. If you live in Lynbrook, and you’re reading this, please, trust me, go to Greis Park this weekend and check it out. Nightly through Sunday there will be ceremonies at 7 p.m., and the wall will be open for viewing all day and all night.
And to the men and women who fight for my freedom, thank you—you don’t hear it nearly enough—you are heroes in every sense of the word. To the police officers, the firemen, and the countless volunteers who protect us here at home– thank you, you do amazing things every single day, and you certainly don’t receive enough recognition.