The Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Greater Rochester: A Meditation on the Cost of War

Photography by George Cassidy Payne

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Greater Rochester, which can be found in Highland Park South, has been a place for somber reflection on the cost of war since its dedication on September 8, 1996.

The fallen had names such as Robena, Strassner, Owen, Beltran, Zornow, Sweet, and Moore. They came from schools we all claim as our own: Greece Olympia, Rush-Henrietta, McQuaid Jesuit, Edison Tech, Churchville-Chili, Penfield High School, Mt. Morris, Avon, Geneva, Monroe, Franklin and East. And they were young, so very young. The vast majority were born between 1943 and 1950. They were the “Baby Boomers” who didn’t make it. (I read on one stone that 17,539 of the KIA were married.)

Familiar as their names and schools may be to Rochesterians, these men were killed in places they had never heard of before and would never want to remember again. Places with names such as Tay Ninh, Gia Rai, and Dak To. Places that stole their limbs, innocence, faith in God, and worse. Deep in the Highlands, off the coast of the South China Sea, or inside the Mekong Delta, those who came out took everything worth leaving behind.

As a tribute to those who never came out, this memorial is more than an invitation to consider the suffering of a war that trudged on for more than 20 years and hijacked the lives of 280 men from the six-county region of greater Rochester. This memorial is an invitation to consider the suffering inherent in our human condition. War is older than any soldier who has ever been killed in one. War is older than any nation that sends young men and women to die for it. War is older than any civilization. War is more ancient than peace.

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“The focus of the walk is on your right, a single-file line of identical bollards, seemingly endless, running along the Walk’s edge and curving ahead out of sight. Each bollard is made of brushed stainless steel, “America’s metal,” and each represents a Rochester-area soldier, killed or missing in action in the Vietnam War. Each bollard bears two small plaques: one, an insignia of the soldier’s military branch; the other bearing the soldier’s name, date of birth, date of death or disappearance, and high school. The bollards are sequenced chronologically according to the final day in the life of each soldier. “(http://www.rochestervietnammemorial.org/The-Memorial-Walk-of-Honor.php)

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The schools repeat. The names blend in. The numbers lump together. But the loss, with every bollard, becomes that much more sorrowful.

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“But this too is true: stories can save us.”
Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

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“For 1,100 years, Vietnam had been successively governed by a series of Chinese dynasties: the Han, Eastern Wu, Jin, Liu Song, Southern Qi, Liang, Sui, Tang, and Southern Han; leading to the loss of native cultural heritage, language, and much of national identity. At certain periods during these 1,100 years, Vietnam was independently governed under the Triệus, Trưng Sisters, Early Lýs, Khúcs and Dương Đình Nghệ—although their triumphs and reigns were temporary.

During the Chinese domination of North Vietnam, several civilizations flourished in what is today central and south Vietnam, particularly the Funanese and Cham. The founders and rulers of these governments, however, were not native to Vietnam. From the 10th century onwards, the Vietnamese, emerging in their heartland of the Red River Delta, began to conquer these civilizations.”

“When Ngô Quyền (King of Vietnam, 939–944) restoring sovereign power in the country, the next millennium was advanced by the accomplishments of successive dynasties: Ngôs, Đinhs, Early Lês, Lýs, Trầns, Hồs, Later Trầns, Later Lês, Mạcs, Trịnhs, Nguyễns, Tây Sơns and again Nguyễns. At various points during the imperial dynasties, Vietnam was ravaged and divided by civil wars and witnessed interventions by the Songs, Mongol Yuans, Chams, Mings, Dutch, Manchus, French, and the Americans. The Ming Empire conquered the Red River valley for a while before native Vietnamese regained control and the French Empire reduced Vietnam to a French dependency for nearly a century, followed by an occupation by the Japanese Empire. Political upheaval and Communist insurrection put an end to the monarchy after World War II, and the country was proclaimed a republic.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Vietnam)

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“You will kill ten of us, we will kill one of you, but in the end, you will tire of it first.”
Hồ Chí Minh

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“As a child, I thought that war and peace were opposites. Yet I lived in peace when Vietnam was in flames and I didn’t experience war until Vietnam had laid down its weapons. I believe that war and peace are actually friends, who mock us.”
Kim Thúy, Ru

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“Post-Traumatic Stress Injury isn’t a disease. It’s a wound to the soul that never heals.”
Tom Glenn

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“Anyone who isn’t confused really doesn’t understand the situation.”
Edward R. Murrow

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“But to a Vietnamese peasant whose home means a lifetime of back-breaking labor, it will take more than presidential promises to convince him that we are on his side.”
Morley Safer

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“The Memorial is the inspiration of Dr. Barry R. Culhane, a Vietnam Veteran, who began the $1.5 million project with the vision of creating a tribute to all heroes who fought in the War, and a memorial to the 280 Veterans from the Greater Rochester area who gave their lives in the service of their country in Vietnam.

The Memorial took 10 years from inception to creation. During that time, in addition to the struggle to raise funds and find a location for it, Culhane and his supporters worked to overcome many controversies surrounding its creation.”

(https://travelmaven.wordpress.com/2009/01/30/vietnam-veterans-memorial-of-greater-rochester/)

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