After being stuck in my apartment for five days with strep throat I couldn’t take looking at the same 4 walls anymore. I decided to hike up to the top floor of my building, laptop in tow, to try to get some work done. Living in Arlington, there’s not much to see in the immediate vicinity. The only mildly entertaining sight is the motel with dimly lit neon red, white and blue stars on top. It’s positioned next to our building and it’s quite an eyesore. My friends who live one floor directly below me like to say that if something bad happens they say karma is punishing them for not talking enough shit about the awful motel. But in the lounge area on the top floor, if you sit at the right table next to the right window and look to the left the Washington Monument sticks out like a beacon with a red eye at the top, which may seem menacing to some, but I feel like it’s a point I can always locate, the exact point I would like to revolve my life around. With a view like that how could I think about writing rebuttals to the articles sent by my professor? The dimly lit, glowing marble of DC was calling me!
I had someone in mind who I would’ve liked to ask to go with me but, as he’d cancelled our plans earlier that day, I decided to head out alone. I saw the profile of the Lincoln Memorial on the horizon. I bypassed walking up to the monument as there were too many tourists gathered on the steps. When I found the Vietnam War Memorial I began my exploration through the United State’s collective military memories.
This first stop is probably my favorite. The design of the memorial serves its purpose perfectly, displaying the true cost of war as well as reflecting the solemnity and seriousness such histories should be recalled with. While there I saw few other people and missing was one the aspect that intrigued me most when I visited last in the spring around six years ago, the things people left in front of the monument. At 13 or 14 I found a Bronze Star medal and five letters from one man to five soldiers whose names were inscribed on the wall, all gingerly sealed in a gallon sized Ziplock bag. In the letters the man explained the guilt he felt for having been honored with the award when his sacrifice was nothing compared to his friends. By this time I understood the concept and manifestation of survivor’s guilt as well as the modesty many service members display about their time in the force as I grew up with a father in the Army Reserves who had been deployed during my lifetime along with having numerous other relatives who had served. Yet, this blatant, heartfelt display of these emotions, tied to the fact that he had given up what I believed should have been his most prized possession, hit a nerve inside of me I didn’t know was there. Many years later I remembered that man and his actions when wondering why my father kept his Bronze Star, which he earned in Afghanistan in 2012, hidden in a box in the basement. When I found these items at the wall I immediately ran up to my father and exclaimed that we needed to find this hero and return him his star. I feared that someone would steal it for themselves and that, when the veteran realized his mistake in leaving such an important relic. My father told me to put it back and reassured me that the park rangers collected the things people left and would send the metal to the honored recipient.
I now understand that my father is just like this man, he attributes any success he had during his deployments and 31 years in the Reserves to those he worked with, saying that he was only one player of many. He talks fondly about his Afghani counterparts in the Afghan military and police force. He continues to keep in touch with some of the educated men who served as his translators and encourages me to communicate with them when they have friended me on Facebook in the past. His gratefulness to those charged with his protection while on the ground is palpable. We knew that whenever he traveled by road he was surrounded by two Humvees, one in front, one in back. Recently, nearly two years after his return home, he explained the dangers he faced. Apparently he was attacked multiple times while traveling, and he thanks his protection detail for saving his life. I do too, and so do the many people who love him and have been positively affected by the work he did after those incidents.