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"As the hymn says, you can lay your burden down."
March 15, 2013 7:36 AM   Subscribe

The Things They Leave Behind. "When the Vietnam Veterans Memorial opened 30 years ago, something unexpected happened: People started leaving things at the wall. One veteran has spent decades cataloging the letters, mementos, and other artifacts of loss — all 400,000 of them." (Via.)

Website: The National Park Service Museum Resource Center.

CSPAN Video: "Bob Sonderman, director of the Museum Resource Center, gave a tour of the football field-sized warehouse which houses roughly 2.5 million archaeological objects from National Park locations in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia." (2/11)
posted by zarq (26 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
The mysteries are always there: the black lace panties, the Bazooka Joe bubblegum comic strips, the fishing bobber, the Mickey Mouse ears, the single high-heeled shoe, the GI Joe action figure, the golf trophy, the taxidermized deer hoof and ankle, the television, the set of coins hundreds of years old.

This is a fantastic article. Even if Duery Felton remains a beautful enigma.
posted by chavenet at 8:11 AM on March 15, 2013


Ha, I was going to quote that, too. I'll quote the next paragraph:

Felton compares the mysteries to Odysseus and the Sirens: “Plug your ears with wax or you’ll crash on the rocks. It’s seductive, but you have to learn to read and not to read.” That’s one of the hardest jobs he has—to read the letters. The content has to be archived, but the reader can’t, day after day, week after week, let everything fully touch him.

I've always found it to be kind of overwhelming just to be there, to look at the Wall and the people touching it, to look at the objects left at its base. I can hardly imagine having to carefully sort and catalog them. Even if you had the greatest detachment skills in the world, it would be very difficult. All that grief, all the anger, all that love and missing people and pain.
posted by rtha at 8:16 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can recall the first time I saw Vietnam veterans marching in a parade. At first the crowd was silent, surprised to see anyone younger than WWII or Korea marching in a veterans group. Then the applause started. Now the Vietnam vets were the surprised ones. I wonder if this was the first time anyone had applauded them, marching in the uniforms that they were once told not to wear in public.
posted by tommasz at 8:16 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


“The hope is that the creation of the Memorial will begin a healing process.”

It's been tremendously successful in this regard. Everytime I go to DC, I go by to say hi to Eugene Handrahan whose POW bracelet I wore during the 1970s when I was a kid. I never met the guy, but his name was on my wrist for a decade and I imagined him as a sort of a big brother to me when I was a teenager. I remember vividly when I first found his name on the wall that it was like meeting him for the first time and I unexpectedly began sobbing. It's a little bit easier now.

I go to say "thanks" to him and all the others for sparing me the same fate. I was 11 years old when the war ended, but I wore that aluminum band for many years afterwards. I was and am keenly aware that because of all those dead soldiers, I was never drafted and sent off to some distant place to kill people and for a long time, the United States refrained from repeating that mistake. So for me, those visits with Gene are personal ones, always tear-filled, and I am hardly aware of anyone else around me, but I do see the notes and flowers and candles and stuff left on the ground and it makes me feel like I am not the only one going on a personal visit to see a friend. It is a powerful place but intensely personal.

And because of that I guess the monument completely fails to be a shrine for the nation and 58,000 names of the dead are largely forgotten by the country and certainly forgotten by its government. After Vietnam, it seemed impossible that the US would repeat that mistake, and yet I watched with my own eyes as American started an unprovoked war on Iraq. In terms of "never again" the Memorial has come up short, but maybe that would be asking too much.

I imagine everyone with a personal connection to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is profoundly affected by it - for the rest of the nation it has had sadly very little impact.
posted by three blind mice at 8:27 AM on March 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


That wall makes me cry every time I see it. The one I look up every time is Lance Corp. Calvin Blanton Jr., who drowned while crossing a river, loaded down with equipment. He was the boyfriend of someone I went to high school with, and a twin brother to Alvin.

Someday I'd like an explanation for why we were so callous to many of those veterans, many of them drafted into service and really drawn from so many of our communities, lots more guys next door hauled off to serve, when we haven't treated other, volunteer, veterans that way. God knows I opposed that war and I'm not arguing for bad treatment for newer veterans, but the disparity and change in tone is remarkable. Is it really because of our attitude toward the wars themselves? Though I also remember thousands of demonstrators, many of them Vietnam veterans, demanding that the troops be brought home, so the opposition to the war wasn't only about policy or aimed at individuals as people sometimes like to spin today.
posted by etaoin at 8:48 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I imagine everyone with a personal connection to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is profoundly affected by it - for the rest of the nation it has had sadly very little impact.

I have no personal connection to the wall. My grandfathers served during the Korean War, and neither went abroad. My father served after the Vietnam War ended. The Army sent him to West Germany. Still, I cry when I see the wall. Its quiet shows real respect for the dead. The World War II monument, which flaunts the aesthetics of the people who lost that war, can't compare.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:13 AM on March 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


The mysteries are always there: the black lace panties, the Bazooka Joe bubblegum comic strips, the fishing bobber, the Mickey Mouse ears, the single high-heeled shoe, the GI Joe action figure,

In other words, kid's stuff. Which drives the point home -- how very many of the dead from that war were still just kids, often still well short of legal drinking age
posted by philip-random at 9:36 AM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The age issue is interesting. One of the striking things, aside from the ethnic mix of names, is how many of the dead are Someone Jr. But then every now and then there's a Sr., and you're immediately reminded that there's a little boy somewhere back home...
posted by etaoin at 9:45 AM on March 15, 2013


-Sarah Palin's son Trig could do a better job than that black thing with just names. It's got no generals in snappy uniforms or horses or stuff war memorials should have.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:48 AM on March 15, 2013


That last one was satire.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:49 AM on March 15, 2013


Oh thank God, it's satire.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:50 AM on March 15, 2013


Copping to reading it and wholly believing Palin could say something like that without blinking.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:00 AM on March 15, 2013


I...um...I have that tupperware. It's currently filled with cocoa mix, which looks not tremendously unlike the ashes of "In Retrospect." Hmm...
posted by phunniemee at 10:03 AM on March 15, 2013


PBZM, be carefull when you post shit like that. You damn near gave me a rage-induced heart attack.
posted by magstheaxe at 10:05 AM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Copping to reading it and wholly believing Palin could say something like that without blinking.

Well, I've fallen for such things since Laura Ingraham or whoever perverted Niemoller's statement on the Nazis.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:07 AM on March 15, 2013


I recall seeing a war memorial - this one, in fact - that said, "Their name liveth for evermore". But there were no names. I immediately thought of the Vietnam memorial, and how special it is.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 10:09 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


In 2010, the Army started collecting & preserving the artifacts left by mourners at Arlington National Cemetery's Section 60, where veterans of Iraq & Afghanistan are buried. Before 2010, items left behind at the gravesites were treated essentially as litter.

It was brought to public attention that, in comparison to Section 60, mementos left at The Wall were collected and archived.

And so now Arlington has a new policy.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:24 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I imagine everyone with a personal connection to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is profoundly affected by it - for the rest of the nation it has had sadly very little impact.

I have no personal connection to the war and was deeply affected by visiting it. But I'm a history person, which may make a difference.
posted by immlass at 10:26 AM on March 15, 2013


And so now Arlington has a new policy.

... I think, overall. there is going to have to be more attention (financial and otherwise) paid to the memorial objects from these two sites. Why? See below (from the last page of the first article linked):

MRCE just doesn’t have the resources to collect, catalog, and store every object in perpetuity, as is the mandate of this collection.

MRCE has an enormous backlog—estimated at about 200,000 objects, roughly half the collection—and not enough staff to catch up. There are seven employees at the facility, but they don’t work on just this one collection. And the stream of offerings isn’t letting up, even now.

They’ve learned a lot over the years by trial and error—that cans of tomato products burst, that printer ink smudges and runs onto other objects, that clothing deteriorates without cold storage. A canteen with 40-year-old bloodstains teaches them more.

Nobody’s sure when or if the Park Service will stop collecting it all. Felton loves this aspect of the collection, that it’s uncensored and unjuried, that no judgment is made on what’s valuable and what’s not. Everything is valuable because someone wanted it included.


Think about that 200,000 item backlog for a few minutes, and how long it will take to clear it, even if the staff were to double, or triple. Adding in the Arlington items will make the problem worse. We are correct to save them, but without the resources necessary to care for them properly, we might as well not save them at all.
posted by anastasiav at 10:46 AM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


I imagine everyone with a personal connection to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is profoundly affected by it - for the rest of the nation it has had sadly very little impact.

No one in my family has served since the Spanish American war with the exception of my maternal grandfather who was in the Merchant Marines during WWII.

Still, when I was 14 and got to go see the Memorial on a school trip, I sobbed uncontrollably because there were *so* many that I didn't know and would never know.

We remember. We don't forget. But sadly, those in power either forget or for some reason decided that the sacrifice was needed again.
posted by teleri025 at 12:08 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I chose the Vietnam Wall as my topic for my Communication Analysis back in college (circa 1987.) Usually a communication Analysis is done on famous speeches. Basically you set out to analyze what the speaker wished to communicate, what communication methods they used and how successful they were (what results they obtained.) My research really convinced me of how brilliant May Lin was and how brave the selection committee was for choosing her design. The opposition was very heated.

The way I choose to evaluate her design as a communication devise was by evaluating the reactions of visitors-- particularly the poems and drawings and objects left behind. To this day I don't know of any other monument that I have visited that has left me weeping. I would say that was a pretty damn successful monument to the fallen.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 12:12 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Bernie’s almost giddy tonight, leaving burning sage all around the wall, less because he believes in the herb’s healing powers than because it strikes him as a silly, New Agey thing to do. And he believes in the healing powers of silliness."

I want this man to be my grandfather, and I want him to tell me all his stories.
posted by Grandysaur at 2:14 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


PBZM, when the Vietnam memorial was first built, it was in fact very controversial, because it didn't have soldiers, statues, and all that, it was just a big list of names.

In retrospect, it's one of the most iconic and successful (that might not be the right word to use) war memorials in the country, if not the world. I've been to or seen other war memorials, but none of them are iconic the way the Vietnam memorial is. For example, consider the painting of a man touching the wall, and seeing his buddies buried in the reflection. I can't think of another war memorial anywhere in the world that could be used in such a painting.

There's a relatively forgotten statue of soldiers nearby as a sop to the people who felt that a more traditional memorial was in order.
posted by Hatashran at 3:41 PM on March 15, 2013


For example, consider the painting of a man touching the wall, and seeing his buddies buried in the reflection.

That picture ... man. That picture.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:43 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been to the wall a couple of times in different times in my life. Every time I can't believe how large it is.

The last time we were there (after my paternal Grandfather passed, a Korean and Vietnam veteran) my dad told me about a name on the wall. Sammy Kinnamon was in the same Jeep as my grandfather. They parked outside a store so my grandfather could run in to get some smokes. A mortar landed in the driver's seat, killing Sam. That's how close I came to not writing this.

Side note: Currently wearing a POW/MIA bracelet containing the name of Michael J. Estocin (Medal Of Honor recipient, missing since April 26, 1967, North Vietnam).
posted by stltony at 7:25 PM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's shocking how few war memorials manage to project the "War is bad" message.
posted by schmod at 12:31 PM on April 1, 2013


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