Dear Mr Leiker,

I read your story on the Internet about your experience at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and it touched me deeply. Although I can't claim to be any kind of writer, I felt like I had to try to put into words how I felt when I attended a memorial service at the Wall during which my dad, who was also a Vietnam veteran, was honoured. I know how important it was for me when I realised that others cared about how I felt - and I am only a relative of someone who was affected. I can hardly begin to imagine how it must be for you.

I live in England, and I can assure you that there are plenty of people over here who also care and who are interested in the stories that you and the other veterans tell. Thank heavens for the Internet!

You will be in my thoughts, especially on Veterans Day.

Thank you for your story.

With love,
Donna Jackson

Donna can be reached at:

The Day the Wall Hugged Me

By Donna Jackson

In Memory of S/Sgt Robert G. Gerling and All Vietnam Veterans

I never knew my father. I met him once, in 1979, three years before he died of liver cancer. But the man who fathered me died in Vietnam--changed forever by his experiences, both physical and psychological.

I know now that my dad wasn't the only one. I'm not the only child to have lost a parent in this way--to have suffered this anguish, to feel this confusion, this bewilderment. I know now that I am not alone. And I found this comfort on a cold November day in 1996 when the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial hugged me.

I had visited the Wall many times before--before the weight of evidence was such that the fact that my father's death was a result of his service in Vietnam could no longer be ignored. And even before I knew that I, too, was connected with the Memorial, I had felt the sheer emotion of the place. I always cried at the same the point where the wall of names rose over my head, where there was always such a terrible sense of oppression and sadness.

But I didn't understand then.

On Veterans' Day, 1996, I attended an "In Memory" service at the Wall. The "Friends of the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial" run a support programme for the friends and families of those who died because of their service in Vietnam. The "Friends" accepted me and my dad into their programme and invited me to the Veterans' Day service, during which my dad would be one of several hundred to be honoured.

As I sat and listened to the speeches, I heard others put my thoughts and feelings into words. As they described their experiences, their emotions, their pain and confusion, I knew I wasn't alone, that others understood; and perhaps most important, that they cared.

I spent a long time talking with Mali Klein, whose husband, Greg, had died from a brain tumour resulting from a bullet wound to his skull. Mali is incredible. I wanted to be angry, to blame, to find fault, for all those deaths to be someone else's responsibility. But Mali changed that.

She showed me that understanding what happened is OK, but that recriminations don't help anyone. They don't help the veterans, they don't help the victims, they don't help the future. She and her husband could even be glad they he had served in Vietnam, because it saved him from being caught up in gang culture.

As we stood by the Wall and talked, I changed. Peace came. Mali was right. When I thought of my dad, I didn't want to feel resentment or anger; I wanted only good associations.

Later, as I laid a certificate at the Wall in memory of my dad, another veteran came up to me. He, too, had served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967; and he showed me the names of his friends who had died there. We chatted and we laughed and we hugged. And I knew that we both belonged. We were standing at Panel E12, and I looked up at the Wall towering over my head. But now I didn't feel oppressed. I felt as if the Wall was hugging me; I felt loved.

I am a Cold-War baby. The Cold War led to the stationing of American servicemen in Britain; and were it not for this, my father would not have met my mother, and I would not be here. The Cold War also led to American involvement in Vietnam and took my father away again. Currently I am a graduate student, specialising in American foreign policy. I want to understand.

The Wall is a Memorial to the people who served in Vietnam. It is also a reminder of the cost, and it has a lesson to teach. But learning the lesson is up to us; our attitude is the key.

It is the responsibility of the historian not to judge but to understand, for judgement leads to recriminations and destruction, while understanding leads to progress and peace.

copyright © 1997 by Donna Jackson, all rights reserved

Editor's NOTE: Jim Leiker (Gunner 44) has a Gallery in the VVHP's "Remembrance" section.