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"How's it Going?"

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Conversations and even some laughter at a wall of memories

He came to The Wall only after dark, when the crowds had thinned to almost no one. Each night he went to one knee before one panel on the East, lowered his head for a few moments, stood and went to one panel on the West, went to one knee and again lowered his head, stood and silently dissolved into the shadows of the trees and darkness of Lakeview Park. He always wore camo.

   On the third night, as he moved off towards the shadows, Eric quietly asked him, “How's it going?” A sound was made from he who walks in shadows and again he dissolved into the darkness.

   Late afternoon of the fourth day, a man in camo stopped in the Memorabilia Room to speak with me about getting a copy of his DD 214 (Military Discharge paper). He looked haggard, tired and emotionally wound-up. We spoke for a few moments in soft tones about trying to deal with ourselves, The Wall, our memories, and all the rest of humanity. Through tears and some sobbing he asked, “How do you do it?” My reply is between he and I, no others. He nodded his head, and as he left all I could say was, “Take it slow.”

   The night of the fourth day, I returned to The Wall after dinner. Standing near the locator booth, Eric and I spoke in soft tones about the day and how we were each feeling. Eric touched my shoulder and tilted his head toward the East end of The Wall, “That's the guy that's been here each night, always in camo and always the same ritual. I don't think he's doing too well. Do you know him?”

   I replied, “I can't see his face in the dark, but maybe I do, let's just let him be.” As he who walks in shadows moved

quietly passed us towards the trees, Eric again asked him, “How's it going?” Once again there was a muttered response as he drifted off into the night.

   On the fifth night Eric and the camo man continued their exchange.

   On the sixth night, I returned to The Wall after dinner, having been there all day, as I had been for the entire week of its temporary resting in Sandpoint. As the visitors thinned out during the evening, I went to Panel 34E, dropped to one knee and left a note with my red beret, which had been in the bottom drawer of my dresser for over 30 years. I knew that what I felt at that moment would only last while I was surrounded by The Wall, but for that one moment I felt at peace. This was the last night—  tomorrow night The Wall would be gone. I walked away from my gift, hoping it would do more good with The Wall then it had in my dresser. No one had seen me.

   Eric softly called to me from under the light by the locator shack (TOC= Tactical Operations Command). I went over and we stood in half light, half shadow speaking about this and that. From out of the shadows he came again. He performed his ritual for this last night. As he walked past us, Eric again said, “How's it going?” This time the response was, “Not so good.” He stopped and recognized me, I nodded at him, but didn't say his name.

   He stood with us for a few moments, lit a cigarette and then somehow a conversation began between the three of us. We spoke softly, out of respect for those on The Wall, and for those who might be visiting The Wall.

   We exchanged some stories about our time in Vietnam, where we were based, things of that nature. Then we started exchanging some of the incidents from our time “in-country,” causing us to really laugh with each other: driving a jeep in circles because the steering wheel was chained to the floorboard; being in Pleiku and some of the antics. Don joined us and the stories and camaraderie continued. We went on for some two hours, when suddenly camo man stopped talking about an incident and said, “You know, I've violated my pledge about no laughter at The Wall.”

   Don looked at camo man and said, “If the situation was reversed, and they were here and we were on The Wall, they'd be doing just what we're doing.” We all nodded in agreement.  Shortly thereafter we each went our own way.

   Thank you to all that served, to all that supported The Wall coming to Sandpoint, and to all that came to be at The Wall while it was here from July 14 - July 20.


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Michael Harmelin

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