The Wall
( Joan's encounter with the Wall )

A modifed version of this letter was read by actress Teri Garr at
the televised National Memorial Day Concert, May 28, 2000
We encourage you to visit
Teri Garr's unofficial fan page

My first trip was in the spring of '84. At the time I was teaching high school English, divorced, raising my 6 year old son, and struggling pretty much alone as we all have with so many conflicts. My principal sent me to DC with a group of students on a Close-Up trip. These very well-organized sojourns allow the teachers some time to themselves, and I knew my day would be spent at The Wall--sans kiddies. In fact, I didn't want to be with anyone that day.

I took the Metro down to the Mall, and slowly, slowly wound my way toward that monolith, what one of my friends in a poem calls 'wet, black wings.' As its long, black V appeared and grew larger, my heart was pounding, my feet so heavy I had to force them in front of one another. Everything in my body and being was cringing and pulling back. I was, simply, scared to death. Terrified. And it kept getting closer. When I finally arrived, and it loomed before me, I didn't know what to do, just stood there, not wanting to look at it, looking anywhere else, eyes filled with tears.

At that time, the vigil was in effect year 'round, and a Vet walked up to me, asked if he could help. I was numb and brusque and unsure. Undaunted, he led me to the book of names, asked me who I wanted to find, showed me Michael's name in the book, what the numbers meant, how to find him. Then he volunteered to go down into that waiting memorial with me. I refused--I wanted to be alone. Still undaunted, he said he'd just follow behind, make sure I could find the name if I needed him. I moved down, down, down that sidewalk, the wings of the V pulling me in, the names increasing, my reflection unnerving me, and the tears flowing. As I arrived at the apex and panel 18W, I again just stood there: in complete shock I realize now. The Vet appeared at my side again, gently guided my eyes up to the 2nd line and over to the right. Michael A. McAninch. He was there. It was true. He wasn't coming home. He had been memorialized and immortalized along with all these names around him. My Michael. I collapsed. Just shot down to the ground. But my fall was broken by the Vet who had known I must not be alone. He caught me and held me while I sobbed my grief, wracked with pain. After I quieted a bit, he said, "See all these names around Michael's? They are his brothers and are with him; he is not alone." And he calmly stayed by my side, talking with me, listening to me, nodding, being quiet when he needed to be. It was the first time anyone had ever talked with me about Michael and the War. Fifteen years, and someone finally cared. His name was Terry.

I have been to The Wall three times since that first painful trip. I like the statues and understand why they have been added to the site. But it is The Wall that I come for. I don't see it as a black gash or a tombstone, though I understand those feelings as well. I see it as OURS and THEIRS. We insisted on it; we paid for it; and we experience it in our own ways, some of us choosing not to--and that is a response to it also. For me, it is a memorial to our loved ones, a reminder of the cost, and a site for pilgrimage and gathering and sharing. And it is where a Vet named Terry gave a damn and volunteered to help a grieving lady through her first experience of it--still serving his country and them.

Joan McAninch Samuelson

Back to the memorial page for Michael McAninch.

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The Virtual Wall 08Oct98