Veterans Day: Stories of life, loss and remembrance

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Veterans Day: Stories of life, loss and remembrance

Harini Shyamsundar

Reported by Harini Shyamsundar and Kristin Chang with photos by Justin Kim.

Silver star ornaments … candles … greeting cards … a white wedding dress … a motorcycle …

All of the above are items that have, at one point or the other, been left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C to honor the soldiers who fought and died in Vietnam. All are items that have rested peacefully against the cool, black gabbro rock of the long, two-faceted memorial wall — for an entire day, dawn until dusk.

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Visitors to the memorial inspect cards that lean against the black wall. Often, entire classes of school students visit the memorial and leave letters honoring several veterans. Photo by Justin Kim.

Until the dedicated volunteers of the memorial collected them.

It is volunteers’ responsibility to ensure that these precious tributes are not misplaced nor disposed of; each one is conscientiously filed away.

According to a volunteer named Barbara, who requested that her surname not be published, she and several other of her fellow-volunteers are currently working towards creating a museum near the memorial where they can display the various objects they have compiled so far.

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“It’s heartbreaking to see some of the things that are left behind,” Barbara said. “Which is why we save them all — even the motorcycle.”

The motorcycle, Barbara explains, was left by members of one deceased soldier’s motorcycle club and was made entirely from scratch, with nothing but spare parts.

“A memorial ranger saw it in the morning and was amazed,” Barbara said. “When he asked the men who had left it about it, they explained, ‘It’s for in case our buddy ever feels like taking a ride.’”

This is only one of the numerous narratives that can be found in this mysterious memorial. As the sun hits the dark, glittering walls at just the right angle, 58,286 names shine spectacularly in the light. Dozens of volunteers engage visitors in conversation, their chatter drifting in the cool evening air. Clusters of artifacts sit innocently at the front of the memorial.

And infinite stories spring to the surface.

Here are a few that we found.

Stay out of the kill zone

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