Memorial Day

Posted by Dale Cramer on May 30, 2013

It was a weekend road trip, just three friends on a four-day junket to Washington DC to shoot pictures of old soldiers visiting the various memorials on the National Mall. My old friend Larry McDonald is the photographer in the bunch; I usually just haul the extra equipment so he can be free to shoot.

They come by the thousands, most of them gray-haired, some in wheelchairs, some on prosthetic legs, walking a bit like Robert Duvall, most of them accompanied by younger family or other veterans. Almost without exception they slow to a stop when they draw near to whichever memorial conjures their own past. They get quiet, solemn, deliberate. Reverent. You don’t have to talk to very many veterans to know that what affects them is not the memory of horror and misery and fear, nor the genuine love of God and country. It’s not even personal cost; these men wear their scars like medals. What haunts them is the name of a buddy on the Vietnam Wall, a face embedded ghostlike in the ebony of the Korean War Memorial, a faint voice that seems to echo from the granite walls of the World War II Memorial. The names, the faces, the voices come clear and present. And personal— a joke Murphy told while cooking rations in a helmet, a cigarette shared with Wilson under a poncho in a monsoon, or Grady, the kid who tore the hooch apart looking for his girlfriend’s picture. In this place a thousand yesterdays melt away and leave the memories burning bright as this morning.

Shooting pictures somewhere on the Mall, Larry lost his wallet and doubled back on his own to look for it. As he was retracing his steps through the World War II memorial, something caught his eye and piqued his curiosity. An old man was holding on to the arm of a girl, as if she were guiding him.  She led him up to the wall, and then, with a few whispered words of description, raised his hand and placed it gently on the inlaid statuary that rings the wall, telling the story of the men who fought and died in that war.

The girl stepped back and left him alone for a while, watching from a distance. The way she had helped him, and the way his fingers crawled over the display, left no doubt in Larry’s mind that the old man was blind, and yet he preferred to visit the past alone. They were his memories; he could only go there alone.

Larry watched him for a while and shot a couple of pictures but he didn’t speak to the man, didn’t dare break the reverie.  He just watched the old soldier’s hands reading the wall like braille and wondered what faces he was seeing, what voices he was hearing. In this place, that unique silence lay heavily on this man, and Larry came away believing he’d seen a hero.

Moments like that are gifts, and nobody knows it better than a photographer. He can’t make them happen, he can only pay attention and wait. It was pretty clear how Larry felt about that particular moment when he told me about it later.

He kind of bit his lip and said, “Thank God I lost my wallet.”


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19 Comment(s)

  1. This brought tears to my eyes, Dale. I believe it did need to be said. My late husband was a Viet Nam vet and troubled for all of his days. God bless our veterans and all who gave their lives for us!


    Diane Bell

    May 30, 2013 | Reply
  2. And this entry was a gift as well, Dale. Thank you.


    BJ Hoff

    May 30, 2013 | Reply
  3. Love this post! I have always wanted to go to Washington D.C. to see the Memorial. Thank you!


    Melissa L.

    May 30, 2013 | Reply
  4. That should be shared with all of America! Gut-wrenching!


    Carol Pitts

    May 30, 2013 | Reply
  5. Thanks for posting this Dale! I found out a few days ago that a friend’s dad was a POW in Korea for 33 months. She said she didn’t know it until she was grown & her mom told her, She said her dad doesn’t like to mention it. They were starved, beaten and their sides cut open and chicken livers were sewn up in them. So sad!


    Doris Reedy

    May 30, 2013 | Reply
  6. “He could only go there alone.” Lovely. And true.


    Lori

    May 30, 2013 | Reply
  7. Thank you, Dale. I couldn’t have said it better. I know— I tried . God Bless.


    Larry McDonald

    May 30, 2013 | Reply
  8. Might be your best!


    June

    May 30, 2013 | Reply
  9. The only lasting result of war is sadness.


    Kirk

    May 31, 2013 | Reply
  10. This was very touching. Thanks for posting. I wanted to take my dad, my hero, to see to see this…but unexpectantly lost him last year. An 87 year young WW2 Navy gunner and proud of it.


    Robert

    May 31, 2013 | Reply
  11. Excellent, excellent blog. I went to The Wall in 1988 – before the WWII memorial was there. I don’t think anyone can go and not come away without a new respect for what so many sacrificed serving their country.


    Dan Johnson

    May 31, 2013 | Reply
  12. You just made an old soldier cry. And I thank you for it.


    Link Cooper

    May 31, 2013 | Reply
  13. How touching,moving. Both Dale and Larry has given us rare insight and we are better for it. Thank you to all our veterans and those who remember and appreciate them.


    Joe and Tahnia Mendes

    May 31, 2013 | Reply
  14. Very good. Always memories from these pictures. Seem to forget yesterday but not back then. God bless.


    chuck martin

    Jun 4, 2013 | Reply
  15. Great job as usual, Dale! I had a kid whose dad worked for me during the Vietnam War. The kid was drafted and never made it back from Nam. It nearly drove his dad crazy because he and the boy were very close. I found him on the wall with all the info and it brought me some peace also. I thought a lot of the boy also!
    Leon


    Leon Hughes

    Jun 6, 2013 | Reply
  16. Dale, you put it into words that paint the picture in itself and left me with tears in my eyes. Having visited the memorials myself, I can tell you that I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. I can’t even imagine the sadness a veteran experiences who visits it. You can Larry did good. Thank you.


    Maria Rainwater

    Jun 19, 2013 | Reply
  17. My dad is a 93 yr old WWII vet. Reading your blog made me wonder if your next novel should be set during WWII? If you haven’t been to the WWII museum in New Orleans, I highly recommend it.


    Marva

    Oct 14, 2013 | Reply
  18. I don’t know, Marva. I have thought about doing a novel around Vietnam, but I don’t know when it’ll get done.

    Dale Cramer
    Dale Cramer

    Oct 14, 2013 | Reply
  19. This is priceless. A great writer.


    sanford

    May 26, 2014 | Reply

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