The Reading of the Names

On Wednesday morning Mike and I got up before the sun rose to head into Washington DC which is about two hours from our home in Delaware. I had signed up in August to volunteer for the Reading of the Names at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I found out in September I had been one of the many picked to read names. You could request to read a particular name. As a reader you were assigned thirty names and given a two minute time slot to read them. 

Mike and I drove across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and picked up the metro in New Carrollton. The first subway stop on the orange line. Unbeknownst to me as I had not thought to ask, it was Mike’s first time using the subway. We got off at the Smithsonian stop. Being a Wednesday and cold the crowds were little to none. Mike and I about had the mall to ourselves. We stopped to look at the Capital building at the far end of the mall before making our way towards the Washington Monument. I pointed out the different museums to Mike as we went. We passed by American History, Natural History, the African American Musuem-which looks amazing from the outside. We passed by the Holocaust Museum to cross the street and head to the Washington Monument. Mike said it was the closest he had ever been to it. We did the tourist thing and took photos. We made our way to the World War Two monument. We walked all around it and took time to reflect in front of the wall of stars which represent fallen soldiers. It was around 9:00 in the morning so it was deserted except for five other people. Mike’s step dad fought in World War Two so it was a meaningful visit for him. After we walked down towards the Vietnam Wall as I wanted to see where I would be reading and to whom I would be reading to. I was shocked to find only ten chairs set up in front of a platform stage and I quickly realized I would be reading to my Mom, step dad, Mike and some thirty or so Vietnam vets. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I honestly thought there would be more people. But as Mike reminded me it was a word day and a Wednesday and cold. As I checked in I was asked if I would read an additional thirty names as the time slot after mine was not filled. When the slots were not filled Vietnam Vets would read the names. I told them I would read additional names and asked for the pronunciation of one name. Mike and I headed out towards the Lincoln Memorial as we had half an hour before I had to be in line to read. I was nervous I would fumble or bumble a name and wasn’t sure how I would be with my voice booming back at me through four speakers they had overtop the wall. I asked Mike if we could climb the stairs and go up to see Lincoln. It is my favorite monument. I love sitting on the steps in nicer weather and watching the world go by and the planes take off and land at Reagan National airport. I practiced my sixty names at a quiet corner at the monument. Then my time was approaching to get in line. There were ten people ahead of me reading names. 

When I got into line all my nerves disappeared and I felt a wave a calm come over me. Mike spotted my mom and step dad who had traveled to DC to support me. He told them I was reading extra names and that I was still on time for my reading. I got quite cold standing in line but had dressed warmly. I did grow up in New England after all. I found I had to turn slightly away from the wall as some of the veterans were touching the names of comrades and crying or having a moment and I knew I watched them I would get all teared up. So stared straight ahead at the woman in front of me. Three readers ahead of me fell to pieces reading their assigned names but got through them. Then a vet read his assigned names. The woman ahead of me marched onto stage and started reading. She read the name of her brother as well as others. While waiting my turn one of the wall volunteers and a Vietnam vet himself chatted with me. He asked if I made the trip to DC especially for this and I said yes. He asked if knew anyone on the wall and I said no. I told him I saw they needed volunteers and I felt it was the least I could do and it is an honor. He thanked me for reading and attending the ceremony. Then it was my turn. I walked to the podium took a deep breath and started with the first name who I had practiced for two months to say. I felt a connection to the sixty men whose names I read and who fought in a war prior to my birth. I read their names slowly and with dignity. It took me almost four minutes to read my names. When I finished I walked back down the stairs towards the wall once again and three vets were waiting at the bottom of the stairs. They thanked me for reading and told me I did great. I thanked them and told them what an honor it was to participate. It was very humbling to stand in front of the wall with 58,000 names on it and realize that all these men and women gave their lives. I would volunteer again and read more names when they do it again. This was the fifth time since the wall was dedicated that the names were read. 

I thank all veterans and military for their service in protecting our country and our freedom. It was something to participate in this and something called to me to do it. Normally I blend in with the background when I volunteer but this time for a brief moment was front and center. 

I’ve enclosed photos from the day. The first is the stage in front of the wall. The second I am waiting my turn to read. The third and fourth are some of the names I read. I found them on the wall after I read. And the fifth is a statue by the wall. I highly recommend a visit to the wall if you are in DC. 

2 thoughts on “The Reading of the Names

  1. What an honor indeed!! Bless you and all of these fallen heroes and all the vets who served our country at any time!! I am proud of you!!

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