Not just names on a wall

As Boys Nation senators toured the Vietnam Veterans Wall on Sunday, they had the experience of seeing the Wall through the eyes of men who not only fought in our country’s bloodiest war, but lost friends and loved ones in it.

As part of the third day’s activities of the 67th session of Boys Nation, the senators toured the National Mall and spent an extensive amount of time at the Vietnam Veterans Wall, reading the names etched into the Wall that recognize men who made the ultimate sacrifice. By the senators’ sides were Legionnaires – many of whom fought in Vietnam and knew, at one point, men whose names are on the Wall.

“I was walking down the Memorial and, to be honest, I was paying more attention to the Legionnaires than the Wall itself,” said Ben Gee, a Nationalist senator from Connecticut. “… By looking at them and watching their reactions and their reverence, it really showed me how someone should react to the Wall and what it really means.”

Several senators accompanied Past National Commander Bob Turner as he located the names of men who he served with and knew. The experience made an indelible impact on Doug Marino, a Federalist senator from New Hampshire.

“Obviously you hear about people losing comrades, but when you see someone right there honoring someone that they knew, words can’t describe that,” Marino said.

National Commander James E. Koutz set the tone for the visit earlier in the evening at Post 136 in Greenbelt, Md., where he met and addressed the senators after dinner at the post. Koutz recently returned from a visit to Vietnam, where he saw firsthand the efforts there to recover and identify remains of U.S. servicemembers found in combat areas.

He stressed the importance of remembering Vietnam and accounting for all those who lost their lives there.

“What we do here tonight is because of them and their sacrifices,” Koutz said.

For Jacob Deem, a Nationalist senator from Georgia, the night was especially memorable because of his family’s tradition of serving the military. His mother, father and brother have all served, and he has ambitions to make it to West Point.

“My family has been part of protecting our freedoms and we’re very patriotic, so actually being there and seeing all the monuments – it was touching,” he said. “I have never been out of the southeast. It was something I enjoyed.”

As someone who has spent a great deal of time reading about Abraham Lincoln and his various accomplishments, Deem was quick to climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to see the iconic statue of the 16th president.

“You see it in the movies, you see it on TV, but when you are right in front of it, you don’t imagine how big (the Lincoln Memorial) is going to be or what kind of impact it is going to have on you to see both of (Lincoln’s) speeches on the walls,” Deem said. “It was life-changing for me.”

Deem, like the rest of the senators, was especially moved by the experience of walking along the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with men who fought and lost loved ones in the war.

“Seeing those guys and how touched they were by the Wall… it’s been so many years for them and they still have that respect and that burning pride inside, it’s definitely touching,” Deem said.