This extremely touching monument is in the State’s Capitol Park, location of the State Capitol. From this distance, the photograph doesn’t come close to doing it justice. It could have 50 different shots and not show the same images in this memorial. Thousands of names are inscribed around it, each noting one of California’s own who didn’t return from the war alive. Large, embossed copper sculptures adorn the interior walls, life-sized images of the war carefully rendered. The two empty cartridges from a warship frame the main entrance and a flower box was part of the design, circling the outer walls. A detailed map of the country is made into the ground and, of course, the American Flag is always there, properly lit from three sides as mandated by Federal law for flying at night.
But the thing that will wring every last bit of emotion from even the hardest heart is the sculpture of the soldier shown seated just inside the walls. He’s young, no older than his 20’s, but with the eyes of one who has seen hell many, many too many times. Un-stooped and not the slightest bit slouched, he is nonetheless lost to the world he called home and trapped in a place where he can’t win by “winning” or “losing” a war. There is hope on his face but it seems the hope of elsewhere: this moment being one he is allowed to experience, a quiet precious few seconds when he can ponder something other than a tomorrow identical to today.
I lost nobody I loved in Viet Nam. I only had close contact with a single soldier who was shell-shocked into forcing the neighbourhood kids to march to his ‘orders’. He scared the living daylights out of me. He almost scared me worse than the letter demanding I register for the draft But he didn’t come close to scaring me as much as receiving my Selective Service System Status Card, SSS Form 7, commonly referred to as a draft card with my classification of “1A”. That meant I was headed into a place I was familiar with from the CBS Nightly News with Walter Cronkite: napalm, body counts, and explosions close enough to knock over the cameramen and camerawomen filming for the news.
I missed the war because America’s involvement in it ended before I was sent.