A Tale of Two Walls
By James M. Griffiths
There is a Wall in Washington D.C. This Wall was dedicated in 1982. It is constructed of black granite and over 58,000 names are inscribed upon it. These are the names of the red-blooded American heroes that answered the call, gave their best, and lost their lives after being called for duty by their country to a place called Vietnam. It has been said that the Wall is a place of healing where many Vietnam veterans congregate, fellowship with each other, and pay proper homage to their deceased comrades. A proper memorial to these fallen warriors is considered necessary and proper to those veterans that seek the all elusive closure to a grim and sometimes devastating chapter of their own lives.
My initial pilgrimage to this Wall was in 1984. As many other sojourners to this hallowed place have expressed, I experienced a cathartic reaction. As well as honoring the dead of the Vietnam war, I felt the Wall served as recognition of my service during the war as well as the service of the millions of others that had returned to an ambivalent at best and sometimes hostile at worst nation. The Wall seemed to somewhat erase the ambivalence and hostility and replace it with a recognition by the American nation of our honorable service. Despite this positive feeling, my subsequent visits to the wall through 1989 did not produce the closure that I deeply desired concerning the war. The answer or an answer as to what the war was all about still eluded me.
I assume that numerous Vietnam veterans went through or are still going through the search for an answer as to why the lives of the thousands of their brethren listed on the Wall were sacrificed. I would like to share with others what has assisted me in approaching closure and provided me an answer or the answer to this question. It involves another wall and what happened to it and my thinking in 1989 and after.
There was a wall called the Berlin Wall in East Germany. This
Wall and the country of East Germany no longer exist. The Berlin Wall was probably the
world's greatest symbol of communist tyranny and the suppression of freedom during the
Cold War. It symbolized the hundreds of millions of people enslaved by totalitarian
regimes behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. The Berlin Wall was constructed
in 1961 to halt the waves of escapees from the so called "workers paradises" of
Eastern Europe into the freedom of the West through West Berlin. The wall was as grotesque
as the ideas it symbolized. A snake rising ten to thirteen feet high curling throughout
one of Europe's largest cities, it would have been nearly one hundred miles long if
straightened out. It had 285 watchtowers, mine fields, guard
dogs and armed guards ready to kill anyone that tried to cross its border.
The Berlin Wall continued to stand until November of 1989 when a series of events in the Soviet Union occurred. The Soviets announced they would no longer enforce communist orthodoxy in the Eastern satellite nations. In East Germany, as well as other Eastern European nations, communist governments fell as the demand for free governments prevailed. West and East Germany began the first steps toward reunification. The Berlin Wall fell with a thunderous seismic crash that hopefully rattled the very foundation of the Vietnam Veterans Wall in Washington D.C. The Cold War was ending.
The Berlin Wall and the Vietnam Veterans Wall in Washington are inexorably linked. It is my belief that the destruction of the Berlin Wall was contributed to by the men whose names appear on the Vietnam Wall. The Vietnam War was a smaller part of the overall struggle called the Cold War and the American side prevailed in the cold war. There is no greater symbol of the forces of democracy being victorious in that epic struggle than the destruction of the Berlin Wall.
My subsequent visits to the Vietnam Wall since 1989 and the
witnessing of the demise of most communist regimes in the world have strengthened and
solidified my thoughts and feelings. The all elusive closure sought by me concerning the
meaning of the war has been moved forward. The ultimate sacrifice of the 58,000 plus names
on the Vietnam Wall was a monumental contribution to those hundreds of millions of people
that were to breathe free with the fall of Communism. Knowledge of this has brought a
higher degree of closure to me concerning the meaning of the Vietnam War. It is my fervent
wish that this mode of thinking
will enable those of you still searching added closure also. It is my hope that my words will help you find the answer or an answer.
Welcome home and best wishes.
James M. Griffiths Served as a machine gunner and scout driver with F Troop, 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment June 1968-1969
3784 Michigan Ave.
Bridgman, MI 49106