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As the large bus rolled through the gates and around a corner I was a taken aback. The conversations on the bus suddenly got quiet compared to chatter on the trip through town and across the river. There was really no way to prepare for this. All the maps, the printed figures and the various photos can’t capture the impact of entering Arlington National Cemetery for the first time.

It is estimated that 750,000 died in the Civil War. Many of the 400,000 buried in Arlington are from that era. Like a neatly planted orchard the thousands upon thousands of grave markers stretch across the gently rolling landscape until they disappear over the horizon. Over time you start to realize that each of those graves represents a family, and for that family, a great loss.

Memorial Day is the day we remember those who gave their lives for our country. It should also be a day that we remember their families.

That same week I had the opportunity to visit what is referred to as simply The Wall. The simple yet memorable black granite v-shaped wall that stretches almost 500 feet along the Washington DC Mall and bears the names of the more than 58,000 who sacrificed their life in the Vietnam War.

VietnamWall1Near the wall can be found directories used to help identify the location of a specific name. Watching people step up to these directories once again reminded me that each name represents a family, and for that family, a great loss. Volunteers stood by ready to mount a ladder. With pencil and paper they would create a sketch of the name. Upon being handed the small paper sadness and reflection appeared on the faces of those deep in thought. You could almost hear their thoughts — “what could have been.”

It is also a place of healing for those who served. An opportunity to reflect and honor the fallen comrades who served along side them. A chance one more time to wonder why.

There are many such walls in America. Memorials created so we will never forget. One such wall resides across the street from my work office. I routinely take the time to walk across the street to listen to the sound of the water in the fountain and to read the names on the wall while saying a prayer for that individual’s family.

The large wall in Washington DC is special. But like the acres of grave markers in Arlington, it can be overwhelming in the sheer numbers of those represented. The small wall near my office is not like that. It contains the 130+ names of those from Oregon lost in the Iraq-Afganistan War.

I don’t know the people represented by these names but in some cases I know of their families. On this evening my mind returns to the family of Dominic N. Rodriguez, SPC, US Army. I stood near his family several years ago at the Veterans Day ceremony held in front of this same wall. As individual names were read one family member, I suspect a sister, looked down with tears at the army hat in her hands. A hat with the name Rodriguez written inside. A very real family, a very real loss.