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Notes from the Boonies

By Paul Wisovaty

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I was sitting around the other day trying to come up with something worthwhile about which to write in the column. I spent quite a while drawing a blank, when an old friend stopped by to drop off a short paperback entitled "Wall Magic." (It's not about the Great Wall of China, so please continue) I'll start with the preface, courtesy of Jim Knotts, president and CEO of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. (He should know, OK?)

Jim Asks, "So what is this so-called "Wall Magic?" Those of us who stand at the Wall know of the unbelievable coincidences, twists of fate and, well, "magical moments" that bring long awaited healing and reunite loved ones."

That says it a lot better than I could. So I'm offering these stories, all written by very hard working Wall volunteers who obviously know what they're talking about.

Dan Acant was volunteering at the Wall one late Fall afternoon in 1993, when he saw "a young couple silhouetted by the setting sun approaching his position." He "decided to wait and see whether they had any questions for me. From a respectful distance, I watched as tears began to flow freely from the woman's cheeks. They stood perfectly still for what seemed like fifteen minutes. The spell was broken when the young woman walked up to the Wall and laid a bouquet of flowers at the base of panel 2E. A few minutes later, I saw the couple leave and walked up to the bouquet the young lady had left. A small handwritten note was attached loosely to one of the flower stems. The note read:

    September 5, 1993 To Lee Roy James Killed September 5, 1965

    Dear Dad; Yesterday your baby girl married a wonderful, wonderful man. Although I did not see you there, I felt your presence in my heart and in the hearts of your family and friends. I am leaving you the flowers I carried from the aisle when Tom escorted me. It should have been you. I love you.

    Always, Tina Loy

Nineteen years had passed since that September, 1993 late afternoon. I was able to make contact with Tina via email, and we exchanged notes. In one of them, she explained 'I left the note and my wedding flowers at the Wall, the place where I felt more connected to my dad than any other place in the world.' "

That kind of says it all.

Bill Shugarts was volunteering at the Wall one day when two Vietnamese who had fought in the war approached him. He asked when and where they had served with the ARVN (The Army of the Republic of South Vietnam). He had assumed, incorrectly. These two gentlemen had fought with the Viet Cong, as had two other Vietnamese whom Bill had met only a week earlier. All four of them had come to pay tribute to our war dead, and to leave a rose at the Wall.

"I quickly recovered." Bill wrote, "back into my role as a docent at the Wall, and thanked them for coming to our memorial to honor our war dead."

"Some things you just don't expect, but you are often glad that they happened. All of these Viet Cong gentlemen were doing what they thought was right, and maybe what they felt they had to do."

They may have been enemies in the field, but they still respected each other.

And that says a lot.

I will close with this account, which clearly speaks to the reality of "Wall Magic."

"At the tenth anniversary of the Wall, a long line of people waited in the November cold to read aloud a list of names inscribed on the Wall. An elderly, frail looking lady was standing next to a man as large as a football lineman. They chatted nearly two hours as each waited to read their personal list of names. When it was the woman's turn, she stepped onto the stage and read all the names on her list except the last one. Pausing, she said 'and my son…'; then she read his name.

The big man nearly collapsed. For twenty-five years, he had been looking for the mother of the soldier who had died in his arms; there she was, reading his name."

"Wall Magic" includes seventeen other accounts by Wall volunteers, and if you can't find it in a bookstore, you can contact the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, 1235 South Clark Street, Suite 910, Arlington, VA 22202.

As you could tell, the stories are not about politics. They are about healing. We all need some of that, don't we?

Paul Wisovaty is a member of VVAW. He lives in Tuscola, Illinois. He was in Vietnam with the US Army 9th Division in 1968.

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