Evening descends on a warm September evening in Meadville. The community has gathered for the annual 24-hour POW/MIA vigil hosted by the Veterans of the Vietnam War Post 52.
The ceremony begins with speakers and introductions. A local choral group is introduced and begins to sing patriotic songs for those gathered. The final song that the group sings is one called "Welcome Home."
I stand listening to the lyrics, lyrics welcoming a weary soldier home. My eyes take in all of the people, standing so still, so silent as the words of the song affect each person differently. I take note of the range of emotions as they cross the many faces gathered. Some stoic, some become teary eyed as others bow their heads.
One couple catches my attention. An older couple sitting on a bench. The older gentlemen is leaning forward on his cane, his eyes fixed forward, as if looking into the past. His wife sits quietly beside him with her eyes fixed on the singers. As the song progresses, the older gentlemen leans his head upon his hands resting on his cane. I can see the emotion radiating off him as his head is bowed, and I can only imagine what memories may be coming forth for him.
The song continues and without her eyes ever leaving those who are singing, the wife reaches over and gently grasps one of her husband’s hands. He turns his hand over and their fingers entwine. Her eyes fixed on the singers and his closed, head still bowed upon his cane.
They sit that way, holdings hands, as the song ends and quiet hangs in the air for a moment.
I was struck by that simple gesture of love between this older couple. The obvious affection and understanding between two people who I can only imagine have been together for decades.
What, as a young man, that gentleman may have endured and witnessed as he served his country. His story untold and yet the feelings almost visible to someone standing a few feet away.
A plethora of emotions passes through me as I look around. The Moving Wall, a stark reminder of why we are all gathered on this evening; its dark panels reflecting the street lights in the background as people of all ages quietly begin to talk and greet those they know.
I look back to the bench where the older couple still sit, as the wife wipes tears from her face and her husband lifts his head and looks around. They turn to look at each other; she smiles as he nods his head, as if to say “I’m OK." No words pass between them. Just a knowing look and a gentle smile.
While The Moving Wall was in Meadville, it brought people of all ages together. Veterans from World War II to the present day War on Terror. Families came together to teach their children, widows came to pay their respect and to fellowship with others who may understand. Grown children walked along the panels of the Wall, paying respect to a father they never met.
Oh, the emotions hung heavy in the air throughout the stay of The Moving Wall as hundreds of volunteers helped throughout the five-day stay and veterans of all ages came to visit or just sit on a park bench, silent and reflective.
Healing, fellowship and history. A reminder of what those who have served our country have given. A reminder that we must not forget the sacrifices of so many over the decades.
May God bless America and all who have or are currently serving her.
Kim Lengling is a veteran advocate and author. She is co-chair of Project Support Our Troops and co-founder of Embracing Our Veterans. She can be reached at email@example.com.