Memorialization at the Wall
The Memorial has shaped the memories of Vietnam, for both American soldier and civilian. It has become “both a part of and builder of cultural memories of the Vietnam War.” The function of the Wall has provided a shared communication of what happened in Vietnam, physically, mentally, politically, and personally. The memorial design approach was a response to the controversial issue of body counts, MIAs, and POWs. It has offered a healing potential, historical and personal, to the memory of Vietnam veterans.
For those with no direct attachment to the war, the Wall has helped “invent cultural and individual memory.” It has allowed many to connect their uncle or grandparent’s certain medal or photograph with the name at the memorial. It has provided a landscape in which to create the narrative, contemplate, and reflect: “The Wall’s most lasting rhetorical power, therefore, lies not just in its role as a memorial text-to-be-read, but also in its role as tool for inventing memorial texts.” It has allowed many to “invent a memory of the person whom that name signifies by tracing through and over his present absence and absent presence, his indentations in personal and cultural memorial artifacts.” Therefore, the reflective Wall has presented an interesting dynamic between absence and presence; it has worked as allowing a dialogue between the past, the present, and the future. In an environment of public space, it has inspired a private and shared dialogue of what was, and what can be.
Throughout American mourning of war, there is a constant subject: the status of the soldier. What does the soldier mean to America? What do the soldier’s actions mean to American values and policy? What does the soldier, as a symbol of US action, mean to the society? Through a study in American war memorialization, we can learn and come to understand the status of the American soldier, and his place in society. Mourning is a concept we see often, but do not understand. By examining the history of mourning in America, we can understand the grievances of the Vietnam War. By exploring its effects in the Vietnam War, we can further understand the conflict’s controversies. In comprehending the lamentation, and other emotional responses, experienced at the Wall, we can understand not only how, but why Americans mourn and memorialize. The tradition of American mourning and memorialization for war is a struggle in understanding life, death, and values. It even expands our grasp of the status, purpose, and meaning of the American soldier. At the Wall, war memorialization ties in with individual faith, and the call for memory: what do we want to remember?