Postcards from Tradocia

book of the dead

The other day I visited the Iowa Gold Star Museum, which is basically kitty-corner from my barracks (if they could be called that). It was really quite an impressive museum, with an excellent weapons room, containing a wide selection of US and captured foreign military arms. There were a couple of anti-tank rifles that were almost unbelieveable; most notable was a Finnish Lahti rifle, chambered for a 20 millimeter round. It looked ridiculous – at first I didn’t believe that I was looking at an actual weapon, but rather a double-scale model of one. There were several Browning Automatic Rifles in seemingly-pristine condition, along with a whole rack (!) of excellent-looking M1 Garands, M1903 Springfields, and M1911 pistols. I drooled at that display – they were just sitting there, and no one would ever shoot them again! Such a travesty…

Many of the other displays were excellent, including a room dedicated to the history of the 34th Infantry Division. (Side note: there’s no Wikipedia entry for the 34th ID. I think I’ll take it upon myself to create one.) In the section about Red Bull POWs throughout history, there was a small cabinet showing Vietnam artifacts. On top was a thick book, about the size of the Des Moines white pages. It was a listing of all the names from the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial – like a phone book, except everyone in it is dead.

I flipped through the pages slowly, stunned by the simple listing of thousands of names in single-spaced 12-point sans-serif font. The column after the name listed the rank of the deceased; privates were followed by colonels in the list and vice versa, showing death to be truly egalitarian. At a certain point I just stopped on one page and stared for a few moments; not any particular page, just one that I had selected randomly. I then closed the book and walked away, filled with an indescribable feeling.

Even now, writing about that brief moment of time, looking at a plainly formatted list of names, I have a feeling that I literally cannot put into words – unusual for me, judging by all the words I write here. Some who read this might understand my feeling – those who know, know. Those who don’t probably can’t have it explained to them.

Perhaps ironically, SFC Crusoe is friends with one of the Minnesota soldiers injured in the IED attack that killed two others this weekend. (See the MN Guard site for details.) He spent most of Sunday and Monday calling everyone he could think of, trying to find out his status. Strangely, this is the closest I’ve come to knowing someone who was killed or injured in OIF. I don’t know what to feel about that, either. I mostly feel blank – a null status. Is that the right thing?

1 Comment

  1. sec

    Alex, have you visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC? When I did, I was surprised by the intensity of my own feelings, which sound much like your reaction to the listing that you examined.

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