It has been nearly ten years to the day since I left for Iraq, which I have often said was one of the most transformational experiences of my life, second only to becoming a Christian. Lately, though, I had been prayerfully wondering if I had lost some of my edge, if I had settled into complacency and had frittered away some the gratitude that had been so abundant. I had been aware that “the Wall” was coming to Athens, the one that on one side gave a historical timeline of the Global War On Terror, and on the other side had the names of all the fallen: soldiers, people who perished in the Twin Towers, and those who died on the various flights that were hijacked on 9/11. It also includes Benghazi, the subject of the last Publisher’s Point. I am so sad to say that I hadn’t really planned to go see it. I was “busy,” don’t you know, “with the paper,” and trying to be a big girl by being pro-active and not waiting ‘til the last minute to get articles written.
I think, though, that God heard the cry of my heart to be reminded, and through a set of unplanned circumstances, I ended up at the Vets’ Museum, experienced the Wall, and it all came rushing back. By “it,” I mean the 30 years we have been contending with those who think it’s appropriate to blow themselves and others up so they can secure their place in Paradise, the bravery of soldiers and civilians alike who united to stop them, and the three years I spent among them.
On the side of the wall that has the names listed, I knew I would find the name of the first Navy SEAL who died in Iraq, Marc Lee. He died while I was on one of the bases where the SEALS lived, but I have not been able to determine for sure if we ever met. I have, however, met his mom, Debbie, and she has gone on not only to do a wonderful job of honoring her son, but of supporting our troops. A few Christmases ago, she traveled to Iraq, the land where her son laid down his life for the Iraqis and for us, and distributed Christmas gifts. U.S. Marine Derek Hendershot helped with finding Marc’s name, and the next day I bought tracing paper so we could do a rubbing and send it to Debbie. As of now, there is no other memorial like it, and the Mall in DC is closed. There will be no more monuments built there.
Derek and JR Nichols, of Vision2Victory, the sponsors of the Wall of Remembrance, help people through this experience on a full time basis. Over and over, as visitors came, they would ask, “Do you have someone you need to find?” It was almost as if the Wall were alive, in a way, a link to the fallen. I wept as I went through, I wept as I told them my stories, and I wept as I was reminded of the number of soldiers who are taking their lives in the aftermath of their tours of duty. Currently it’s about 22 a day.
We also were able to laugh as we told mutual stories of things that are so funny in the crazy context of a combat zone, and don’t make sense anywhere else, or to anywhere else.
Whenever the Wall of Remembrance comes to a town, the local veterans, Boy Scouts or other first responders take turns guarding it 24/7. Members of Amvets and Vietnam Veterans of America were on duty to protect the Wall and the memories it holds. A Gold Star family, (one who lost a family member in combat,) came to pay their respects, and showed us the pictures of Ricky Lee Turner, their fallen hero.
I was turned upside down, again, got behind in my writing/production schedule, again, and I am renewed again in my determination to do more on Memorial Day than barbeque. How about you?
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner