My eyes first beheld the Wall in July 1999 when my wife and I vacationed in Washington D.C. I remember it as if it was yesterday. While I have seen some amazing sights in my life, nothing has emotionally impacted me as those moments spent gazing upon a wall of names. As soon as I returned home, I wrote a short reflection and titled it “A Name on the Wall.” I know for many of you this may be the 2nd or 3rd time you have read this reflection. To honor the memory of those who have served and died in service to our country, I re-read it myself at least once a year. With Memorial Day 2018 just days away, I wanted to share it, for the first time, on my blog.
Always remember, never forget.
A Name on The Wall
There are 58,318 names on The Wall. I was only interested in finding one.
One name. A name that still evokes memories of the spring of 1962. I was eleven years old and a fifth grader at Toney Elementary in Decatur, Georgia. Playing baseball, collecting baseball bubblegum cards and hiding them away in old cigar boxes was more than just a hobby, it was a vocation. I played shortstop that year for the Longdale Little League Yankees. Marty Miller played first base, lanky Ike Hallman pitched, a kid named Yogi played center field, Mike Ivie (who later lived out every boy’s dream by playing pro ball for the San Diego Padres) was our catcher. David Elrod played third.
We came in second, again, that year to the Cubs. Our coach, Mr. Elrod, was always the encourager. He just loved coaching kids and coaching his only child, David. He was a nice man. The kind you don’t appreciate until years later. I recall his son, David, as being a little temperamental, but passionate about this game we loved. I still remember him throwing his glove into the dirt when someone on the other team hit a home run. Following each game, we would race to the concession stand to receive a free drink shouting, “We want bug juice.” Acting like it was some sort of adult beverage, it was really just a combination of Coca-Cola, Orange and Grape soda.
David later graduated from nearby Gordon High School and joined the Marines. A year later I graduated from Southwest DeKalb High School and prepared to start college at Georgia Tech.
I still remember Dad walking into my room the summer of 1969 to give me the news. “Buddy, David Elrod got killed in Vietnam.” Not long after, we made the difficult visit to Wards Funeral Home. There in a closed casket laid David, with his heartbroken parents standing nearby. Still, a familiar smile creased the face of Mr. Elrod. A hug, some kind words, our visit complete, we left. The Vietnam War was no longer just a story on the 6 O’clock News.
That was 1969. It is now a warm July day in Washington D.C. some 30 years later. My wife and I stroll from the Lincoln Memorial to the nearby Vietnam Veterans Memorial. For the first time, we view “The Wall.” This 500-foot long black granite wall, polished to create a mirror-like effect, bears the names of those killed or missing in action in a war that remains a not too distant memory. My eyes scan the Directory of Names.
Lance Corporal David Lamar Elrod, Panel 20W, Line 33. KIA July 22, 1969.
I walk quietly, respectfully along the Wall to Panel 20W and scan down to Line 33. My eyes behold his name, now forever etched in stone. Looking upon this Name on the Wall, I can simultaneously see my own reflection. For a moment, past and present merge as my heart and mind are flooded with childhood memories.
After walking the length of the Wall, I turn back to look. With weakening knees and through moist eyes, I see families laying wreaths, former soldiers leaning heavily upon the Wall, their hands reaching out to touch a fallen comrade. So long ago, yet so fresh.
30 years earlier war protests rocked our Country. But today, this chevron shaped wall is for some, a place of healing, and for others, a place to remember a time of innocence, little league baseball, and drinking “bug juice” with friends.