For no particular reason I recently decided to take a walk through The Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Greater Rochester, which can be found in Highland Park South. This landmark has been an impressive site for both devotion and somber reflection since its dedication on September 8, 1996.
As I entered the memorial from the South Ave driveway, a palpable sensation of tragedy swept over me. 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 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, it dawned on me that 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.
As I sat on an emblazoned granite bench, which was next to a handful of passion fruit colored tulips and interested chipmunks hunkering down below the shaven mulch of pine trees, I thought about how those soldiers must have felt before they got out. Trapped deep in the Highlands, stranded off the coast of the South China Sea, or pinned down within the Mekong Delta, those who came out took everything worth leaving behind.
This is a memorial for those soldiers who never came out; this memorial is more than an invitation to consider the suffering of a single war( even one that trudged on for more than 20 years and took the lives of 280 men from the six-county region of greater Rochester). This memorial is an invitation to ponder 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 that gives birth to nations such as Vietnam and America.
War is even more ancient than peace.