The Scouts were selected to serve as an honor guard for the "Wall That Heals", a traveling, half-scale facsimile of the famous Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, located in Washington, DC. (Of course, we drew the ten PM to seven AM shift, which was no easy sledding).
The traveling wall -- a series of metal panels forming an enormous inverted "V" -- features the name of every US military personnel killed in the Vietnam War, 58,261 of them, arranged in the chronological order of their death. The original wall, a stone's throw from the Lincoln Memorial, is made of black granite, the names carved into the stone.
We tried to make the overnight event more than just an endurance contest. We held a flag ceremony, and walked the boys through the small, traveling museum that accompanies the display. We arranged for a Marine and a National Guardsman, both of whom have served tours of duty in the Middle East, to talk about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. I told the story of Norm Keller, a friend of my father's who left his job as a Spruce Elementary School P.E. teacher to become an Army medic. Norm was shot and killed in South Vietnam, while rendering aid to a fallen comrade. Two weeks earlier, he had celebrated his twenty-fourth birthday.
I am no soldier. I have never fired a gun, and have little interest in that sort of thing. My dad volunteered for the Army in 1958; he was rejected, classified "4-F" because of fallen arches. (It's a little strange to think that my presence on this planet may well be the result of my old man's flat feet.)
But we come from a line of warriors.
Going back eight generations, I find five direct line ancestors who were either militiamen or professional soldiers. There are numerous others, branches from that main line, who also fought. Some took up arms to defend their homes, their families, their faith. Some of them saw the military as an escape from poverty and hopelessness. Some wanted glory. Some wanted adventure. Some just wanted to do the right thing.
I remember them all today. I honor them all today.
This is a list in progress, but here is my family's Wall of Honor:
James Ocean McMurray, Royal Horse Artillery
James McMurray, Royal Canadian Rifles
Hugh McMurray, Her Majesty's forces in India and Afghanistan
Henry Anguish, Butler's Rangers
Jacob Anguish, Butler's Rangers
Roman Litwin, US Army Air Corps, European Theatre
Walter Siedlecki, Haller's Blue Army, Polish-Russian War
Philander Eugene Pearce, 8th New York Heavy Artillery, died as a result of wounds sustained at battle of Cold Harbor, 1865