Today is Memorial Day, the day we honor those Americans who have given their lives in war. You might not know this from the newspaper or TV, though. The holiday seems to have become another excuse to sleep in and for retailers to sell everything from dryers to bed sheets. In fact, Memorial Day should be May 31, but since that’s a Thursday this year, the government moved it up so we could all enjoy a long weekend.
If you’re ever near Washington, D.C., be sure to stop by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Maya Lin’s elegiac wall is perfect, despite the controversy that erupted when her design was announced in the early 1980s. In fact, the two sculptures added to it to “balance” it out—overly literal figures of male and female soldiers — actually detract from the deep symbolism of Lin’s elegant design. Visitors leave mementos at the base of the wall that are deeply meaningful only to the person whose name is on the wall and the person who left it. In addition to the usual flowers, teddy bears, and uniform items, one time I saw a 45-rpm record of “Devil in a Blue Dress” by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. What did that song mean to whomever left it? Which name on the wall was it intended for? It was a haunting sight, that simple black disc propped forlornly against the base of the wall.