Moving monument

Story and photos by Paul Conrad
Vietnam Veteran Howie Berg was on hand to help build the Vietnam Veteran's Traveling Memorial Wall at Rio Grande Park, but he also paused to touch and contemplate the monument. Berg served in the 9th Marines, 3rd Marine division in "Happy Valley," west of Da Nang, Vietnam, for several months before being shot on Dec. 6, 1966. He has visited The Wall before, but said, "I could only get through the first six names before I lost it." Building The Wall "has helped me heal," he said.

It was humbling.

To view firsthand the Vietnam Veteran’s Traveling Memorial Wall in Aspen recently was, in a word, humbling. To hear the silence that fell on people of all ages and from all walks of life.A man in a business suit slowly approached and delicately touched the names; a woman with a baby knelt down to read the letters left by others; two friends smoked a cigar in honor of a friend lost in battle, then left behind the cigar and the friend’s name bracelet. As they do at the original monument in Washington, D.C., people left mementos in Aspen: a picture next to a name, a yellow ribbon saying “thanks,” flowers taped to the wall.

Even before construction was complete, the visitors came. They traced the names of loved ones and watched as veterans erected the sections, one by one. As the wall was disassembled Monday morning, people still appeared, to touch the names on the still-standing sections.The enormity of the Vietnam War was brought to Aspen. It was visible in the emotions of the veterans who served and lost friends in Vietnam, as they read the names of lost comrades in arms; in the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and widows who found the names of loved ones on the cold steel surface, then touched it and quietly wept; in the youngsters who realized the cost of war and the price of freedom.

As a child growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s, I watched nightly news reports from the battlefield that are still vivid in my memory. Even more vivid is the time when my father, Air Force Sgt. Robert L. Conrad, was stationed in Thailand during the late ’60s. He still doesn’t talk about the war and his experiences.At the wall, all are allowed to talk, to weep and to heal. All are allowed to ask questions, to wonder why so many lives were lost in one of the most divisive wars in our nation’s history. Though just 80 percent the size of its big brother in the nation’s capital, the traveling wall, with the names of more than 58,000 killed or missing, retains the same power. Simply and potently, The Wall brings to light the cost of war.

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