The year the first President Bush was elected, I was working on an inconsequential feature film. When it came time to screen the director's cut for the producer early that August, the producer turned up missing in action. The film sat in the projection room over the weekend and he missed the monday screening too. A few more days went by and eventually we learned that, being an old friend of Dubyah's dad, the producer planned to spend that autumn on the campaign trail, stumping for Bush (what an interesting image).

The inconsequential feature film lay moribund all through September and October, L.A.'s hottest months, and basically those of us who were responsible for its completion put in a lot of beach time on the company nickel.

Once Bush was elected, post production swung into ultra-high gear because we were now going to screen the film for the President-elect of the United States over the Christmas holiday. Our days of sun and fun became bitter memories as we struggled to do the work of fourteen weeks in five.

But it came to pass that the inconsequential feature film was completed in time, and my assistant and I found ourselves in the last of a veritable parade of limousines on a moonlit tour of our nation's Capital. We endured a sleepless night and a completely insane next day, as everything that could possibly go wrong with the film and the projection and the theatre did.

The inconsequential feature film was received politely (I never saw the President-elect, though I felt the long arm of his handlers) and my assistant and I, after way too much good champagne, got a couple of hours sleep and hooked up with our driver about an hour before dawn for the trip back to the airport.

Our driver was a terrific guy. He was working over the holiday to make a little extra money. His usual gig was chauffeuring boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, who was out of town, and he regaled us with stories of his hero. Since we had a little time to spare, I suggested we stop by Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial, something I had always wanted to see.

Nothing in my experience as a veteran or a human being could prepare me for what happened next; such is the power of this amazing work of art.

You come upon it unexpectedly, like death itself. The Wall is only six inches high, almost an accident, right there at your feet in the wet grass lightly dusted with Christmas snow. A single name, barely visible in the shadows preceeds another name, and another...The icy cold black granite grows higher as you walk down the slippery slope, slowly intimating the enormity of our loss.

Silently marching in irrevocable chronology, the names are in panels now, whole platoons, companies, battalions, brigades, divisions of names. The Wall begins to tower above you, unbearable and inevitable. The moonlight and soft small lamps that are the only illumination remind you of bunker duty on a firebase perimeter years ago. It's so very cold. You are alone with them.

And so, you see, you are really not so all alone.

This western half of The Wall ends higher than a basketball hoop above you. You have walked for two hundred and fifty feet before the names of tens of thousands of Americans in the order in which they died in war. You realize that you are only halfway through the journey; there is a second eastern wall yet to come. You are at the apex of a huge gash in the earth, an enormous crescent of loss reminiscent of the chevrons that proud boys who become soldiers wear on their sleeves. And there, at the intesection of West and East, at the very heart of hurt, is the first name: Major Dale R. Buis. The first American to die in Vietnam.

The grief you feel is physical and unbearable. You turn away from this so visceral memorial to face: The Washington Monument. The sun has come. There is a promise of warmth. Turning back to The Wall you realize Maya Lin's ultimate genius all at once: the granite shines blackly in the dawn. You can see your face in and among the dead. You meditate upon this as you begin the second two hundred and fifty foot trek back uphill along the other side of the chevron. The list of names and the wall grow smaller, and--with the dawn--are gone.

And there is your driver. Your good-natured jovial limousine driver whom you plan to tip so well, dissolved unashamedly in tears.

"What's the matter?"

"My cousin," he says. "I didn't know he'd be here."

On Vietnam:


  1. I was a prisoner in a Mexican Whorehouse
  2. A long time gone
  3. How to brush your teeth in a combat zone
  4. Libber and I go to war
  5. Fate takes a piss
  6. Thanks For the Memory
  7. Back in the Shit
  8. LZ Waterloo
  9. Saturday Night, Numbah Ten

The Hooch

a long commute
Andy X Kirby True
a tale of two Woodstocks
Buy a Gun
Dawn at The Wall
Feat of Clay
Funeral Detail
I was a free man once, in Saigon
The Joint Chiefs of Staff
the shit we ate

Breaking Starch
Combat Infantryman Badge
David Dellinger
Dickey Chapelle
Firebase Mary Ann
Garry Owen
Gloria Emerson
Graves Registration
I Corps
Project 100,000
the 1st Cav
The Highest Traditions
Those Who Forget
Under the Southern Cross
Whither the Phoenix?

A Bright Shining Lie
Apocalypse Now Redux
Hearts and Minds
We Were Soldiers

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