Celebrating Heroes

America’s Thanksgiving Wall That Heals

My family and I are so very thankful for the many blessings we receive on a daily basis. The United States provides so much for so many; it is overwhelming when we think about it. At this time of year, just after Veterans Day, we are reminded of the old phrase: “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” So many of our fellow citizens give of themselves in time, money, and goods to charities, not to mention the help we as taxpayers ask our representatives to approve, helping those in need. Only a nation as blessed as ours can afford this giving by even the poorest among us, and that is why we are thankful: For the givers.

I was privileged to attend a ceremony at the end of Veterans week for the closing ceremony of The Wall That Heals. The Wall is a mobile replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall that is located on the Mall in Washington D.C. I honestly had not thought much about the mobile version lately but some very exceptional leaders and givers in Washington Parish (we call our counties parishes in Louisiana), just north of my home, organized and brought the Wall here to southeast Louisiana this year for Veterans Day week.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I made the 45-minute drive up to the Parish Fairgrounds, but I knew it would be dark and cool on the night of November 17th.  I thought to myself that I wouldn’t be surprised if this closing ceremony was lightly attended. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As I walked through the darkness toward the Wall, all I could see was the monument itself, brilliantly lit against a beautiful sunset. As I got closer, I saw the numerous silhouettes of the visitors this night, visitors from all over Louisiana and probably Mississippi too. There were families with small children, older couples, and lone observers like me, all walking slowly and deliberately up and down the Wall, looking at the more than 56,000 American names engraved there. Some would stop, remove a sheet of paper from a pocket, and shade a relief of a name, or stoop down and place flowers, or even a memento, like they do at the real Wall in Washington.

As the time arrived to start the ceremony, I made my way over to a group of politicians, active-duty military personnel, family members, and casual observers gathering. It was a very large group seated by a small podium, with the organizers handing out sheets of paper. As the evening’s event began, the simple ceremony started, with each of the seated guests reading from the sheet they had been handed. The only illumination was the light on the Wall nearby, as the sun had finally set and the cool settled over the area. Visitors continued strolling up and down the wall, searching the names and pondering the young life lost. But a quietness also settled over us as the guests spoke.

Each speaker stepped to the microphone and read a part of the 885 names of the Louisiana men lost in Vietnam. Even though they used a microphone, the sounds of their voices were hushed as they spoke each name slowly and distinctly. The sound of each name drifted across the Wall and the field…as if the light breeze picked each up and wafted it to all of us listening and beyond. It was a touching and simple ceremony that generated a warmth of love and feeling of giving to each of us that witnessed or took part in it.

That’s what I am thankful for: those citizens who gave their time and effort to have this simple but compelling event for people many had never met, yet they somehow knew would be in attendance. You see, it’s the citizens’ love for one another and the ideals of our country that sets us apart. There were visitors, family members, and friends from all walks of life, all economic stations, all races, and all genders present that evening…weaved together by the same American fabric, loving and embracing each other with gratitude.

First Thanksgiving

 

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Rob Maness

Rob Maness is a former US Senate candidate and retired Air Force Colonel with over 32 years of military service. During his storied career, Colonel Maness began fighting terrorism as an enlisted Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician and as an officer led numerous combat operations, including as a bomber squadron commander in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. He served at the Pentagon as a Nuclear Operations Officer on the Joint Chief of Staff advising the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on theater nuclear plans and operations, as Vice Wing Commander of the USAF's largest airborne intelligence wing, and finally as a Wing Commander commanding one of our nation's largest military installations and it's largest nuclear operations mission. Colonel Maness is a survivor of the 9/11 Pentagon attack. He is now the owner of Iron Liberty Group. Follow him on Twitter @RobManess.

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