The Power Of A Name


I never really imagined that a name could have so much meaning. Walking
along the Vietnam Veterans Memorial I was faced with thousands of names
belonging to thousands of people who had each given their lives for our
country. I stood there, surrounded by spectators, all quiet in respect and
honor, but the personal meaning didn't reach any deeper than the engraved
letters on the wall. To me they were just labels, not the true souls that
they represented. I had never known the soldiers who had lost their lives;
I hadn't even been alive to experience the war.

I slowly made my way deeper into the list, passing flowers and small gifts
left in remembrance. I saw a wreath left by Boy Scout Troop #471, and a
letter left by a little girl for her "Grampa." For some reason it
surprised me that people would come to the Memorial to pay their respects
to their loved ones. Wasn't this just a place for tourists to come and take
pictures of a very historical monument? Besides, they were, after all,
just names.

Soon I began to become tired of the repetitive carvings in stone. Row
after row, it became harder and harder for me to imagine that each
identity listed had a true character and personality. I began to walk on
the less crowded side of the path that was farther away from the wall.
After snapping a few pictures with my disposable camera, I thought I had
experienced the essence of the memorial.

Then I saw something that made my heart fall silent and my feet freeze in
their place. There, standing in front of Section 34 on the right half of
the wall, was a woman. Her royal blue outfit and white gloves highlighted
her dark chocolate skin, making her stand out from the crowd as it rushed
past her. It was as if she were in a completely different world,
surrounded by nothing except her thoughts. I watched as she reached her
gentle hand up and lightly touched the wall in front of her. Slowly, she
traced her fingers over the name "Frederick Holeburg."* She stroked it
with such softness and purity, it was as if she had never felt anything
more precious in her life. Closing her eyes, she took a breath, and I
could see her imagine him standing there in front of her. She didn't move,
as if afraid to lose her husband all over again Her breathing became so
deep and relaxed, she seemed to be in a state of complete solitude. I
tried not to make any noise, even though I knew she wouldn't notice. I
didn't want to disturb what seemed to be such a placid and tranquil moment.

By looking at the way she held her hand against the stone, I felt I could
see back into the many years they spent in each others arms. I could see
her smiling at him and touching his face; not just his name. I saw them
taking long walks and falling more in love with each other every minute
they were together. I could see him holding her hand as long as he could
as he had to leave to go and fight in the war. I could see her sitting at
home, barely being able to sit still, as she waited to hear news of him. I
could see her crying when she found out he had died.

Then, as if she had suddenly awoken from her dream, a tear quickly ran
down her cheek. She opened her eyes and looked at the name of the one who
had meant more than anything else in the world to her. She began to cry as
she leaned her head against the wall. "I love you," she said. "I will
always love you."

With that she stood up and wiped her eyes. She pressed her lips against
her hand, making sure that her kiss would be felt, and then she touched
her husband s name one last time. Slowly her arm retreated down to her
side, and after standing in peace for a minute, she reached into her purse
and pulled something out. She placed it on the ground, glanced at the wall
once more, and slowly turned and walked away.

I moved closer towards Fred Holeburg's name. Beneath me I saw a white rose
with a maroon red bow tied around it. Next to it lay a white card with
calligraphy writing. I leaned over to read what had been written;

"In honor of the best husband, chef, and friend I have ever met: I love
you, Fred."

I smiled as a tear rolled down the side of my face. I never guessed that a
complete stranger could have such an effect on me without even knowing. In
those twenty minutes I learned more about life and about myself than I
could have ever aspired to learn in months. I learned what it means to
truly love someone. I discovered that some people are cherished so much in
life and death that the sight of their name can cause great emotion in
those they have touched.

Fred Holeburg had made an impact that went deeper than the engraved
letters of his name. Fred Holeburg affected the fate of his country; Fred
Holeburg affected the soul of his wife; and unintentionally, Fred Holeburg
affected my heart. To me he was no longer just a name on the side of the
wall. Even though I had never met him, I knew he was a hero, and that he
deserved so much more recognition than he received, as did the other
thousands of names that stood in front of me. Looking around, I no longer
saw thousands of words; I saw thousands of brothers, grandparents,
husbands and sons. I saw inspiring people who each had been adored by
their loved ones. Only then did I realize the essence of the Vietnam
Memorial. It is not a name that needs to be remembered, it is a person.

I then quickly began frantically reading the names on the wall, trying not
to miss one of the remarkable soldiers that undoubtedly deserved so much
more than just a glance. I wanted to understand and learn about each man
who had lost his life, but then I became aware of the amazing magnitude of
the memorial.

As it was time to leave, I thought of the countless soldiers names that I
did not even have time to read, let alone get to know. Even though I
couldn't get to know each soldier in the war, my eyes had been opened to a
new world of perspective.

I walked away from the wall, the names growing smaller with every step I
took. Finally they were no longer visible, and I said goodbye to the names
I had read, and the heroes I had respected.

* Name used is fictional.

Valerie is thirteen years old. She visited The Wall while on a class visit
to Washington D.C. She is an 8th grade student at The Castilleja School in
Palo Alto, California.