Shannon David Hamons is the Economic Development Director for the City of Harrison, Ohio and was a volunteer at The Wall That Heals during the summer of 2021. The editorial that follows was originally published in the Harrison Press in June 2021.
There Are No Unwounded Soldiers
by Shannon David Hamons
It has been 62 years since 1959; 46 years since 1975. For the war that occurred during that tumultuous sixteen-year period, countless books and songs have been written, dozens of movies made. But 58,281 Americans never returned home to read, listen, or watch.
In June of 2021, during the 40th anniversary year of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, approximately 12,000 area residents, and some from several states away, visited the traveling Wall That Heals in Harrison, OH. The three-quarter scale replica of The Wall in Washington D.C. provided the community with a renewed sense of understanding, appreciation, and reverence for those who died, and for those who survived.
The healing took many forms for visiting veterans. Despite their need for walking canes, glasses, and hearing aids, the survivors’ wounds and memories are as deep and vivid today as they were decades ago.
At The Wall, veterans in their 60s, 70s or 80s often paid their respects silently, reaching out to touch the names of soldiers—engraved in granite signifying the sacrifice of their young lives. The memories sometimes caused tranquil contemplation for which there were no words strong enough to explain. The quivering, silent lips and welling of tears in tired eyes were their only comments.
Some visitors were plainspoken and direct, perhaps with sentiment drained by oft-asked questions that needed recurring responses that are now routine. A veteran was asked if he was there to see a particular name. The answer was no, he was there to see twenty. He described how shipmates died toward the end of the war and are listed near the bottom of the very last panel of 1975. He stretched his hand to span the list. They were good men he said.
One storyteller standing close to the wall to inspect a name and tell how it happened, paused with sudden gasps of sentiment. He struggled to regain composure and finally relived his account faintly, with broken voice, as a droplet rolled down the cheek and a handkerchief rubbed the eyes. With story told, he turned away feeling the reverence of the connection between he and his brother, as he called him.
Other scenes were poignant beyond absorption. A former medic sitting on a bench, staring at The Wall while sobbing, apologized that he didn’t do better, sorry that he wasn’t able to save them all. He tried his best, he said, but there were just too many to help. His grandkids, ages twelve and ten, cried and held his hands, telling their grandpa it was OK and they loved him.
A few veterans never made it to The Wall, choosing instead to look from a distance toward the 375-foot long, inverted chevron filling up the width of the grassy, Ohio field. A seat taken by the mobile education center was fine for him; no stories, no crying, just staring and refusing a volunteer’s offer to drive him in a golf cart to get up close. He softly said he didn’t need to get closer—he was as close to the war again as he ever wanted to be. His shaky hands and trembling jaw verified that. The horrific and heroic scenes he imagined were almost recited in his stare while he gazed over the expanse of green, upon the 140 panels of black granite.
And who is there among us
Could say they’ve never tried
To try and slow the moment
But time won’t be denied
So, take them where you find them and rest your weary head
And hold them that much closer
Leave nothing left unsaid
- Michael Stanley
Click to watch video footage of The Wall that Heals recorded in Harrison by ICRC-TV.