For Everything There is a Season
Sometime, there Is something more important than “The Race.”
Sunday was a big day in Cup. The Bluegreen Vacations 500 would set the Championship Four, the four drivers who would compete for the 2019 Championship next week in Homestead.
As a NASCAR fan, that’s a big deal... or at least that’s what I’ve been told. I had planned my day accordingly.
I watched the pre-race shows. Heard all the stories, backstories and reports. Saw the interviews. Checked the websites and tweets and all. Ran through the Fantasy picks one more time. I was ready when the green flag dropped.
I watched for an hour or so, really as long as I could. There was just something nagging at me, something more important.
It was a sunny day. Warmest we’ll have for a while. Talk of snow in two days. Perfect time to get out and make the short drive to somewhere special.
Monday would be Veterans Day. A time to remember. On a Frankfort KY hillside at 365 Vernon Cooper Way, overlooking the State Capitol is the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It’s a place like no other.
Vietnam was my generation’s war. I didn’t serve. Born just a little too late. Draft number a little too high. I have friends who did. I have uncles who served then, but luckily were deployed elsewhere, like Alaska and Germany.
Sunday... it was important to be here. A time of contemplation and remembrance. A time to say thank you to those who paid the ultimate price in war... in my generation’s war.
So why not just watch the race, come out here Monday, Veterans Day?
It will be busy then. That day is the day folks normally remember. There will be color guards, honor guards, wreaths and speakers. There will be a crowd as there should be. Plus weather is moving in. Sunshine... who knows if it’ll be there Monday.
If you know this place, its best experienced alone or in a small group. Plus, you need the sunshine. There was sunshine, lots of November sunshine. Bright but without the edge, the sharp clarity of a summer sun. Monday... who knows?
Kentucky’s Memorial to its Vietnam War Veterans is unique, probably like no other in the country, in that it is a giant sundial. Words, especially my challenged words do not do it justice. So to get a better understanding of Kentucky architect, Helm Roberts’ powerful memorial to those who served then, check out this video from the Kentucky Vietnam War Veterans Memorial web site.
A personal Memorial Day for all who died in that war, my generation’s war. What could be more fitting?
The video does a tremendous job describing the Memorial and its uniqueness. There are several things not discussed in the video that adds to the power of the Memorial. Maybe that’s what drew me here today.
The first is the MIAs. Charles Shelton, a pilot from my hometown of Owensboro is in that group and their names are placed at the front of the pointer or gnomon so that the shadow never falls on their names.
Encircling gnomon’s base are inscribed the words from Ecclésiastes 3:1–8:
For everything there is a season;
And a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal,
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time for war, and a time for peace.
These words provided the basis for The Byrd’s 1965 chart-topping single Turn! Turn! Turn! I’m sure some remembered here listened to it on their transistors, on their car radios or danced to at their high school dances before being called up and shipped off to fight a war, another war to end all wars. They left home with the hope found in its final line...
a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.
Today, it is late. The shadows long, now extending past any names on the plaza. I may not see a personal Memorial Day but today I can still “walk the war.” As described in the video the plaza is divided so that each hour on the sundial represents a year of the war. Between these hourly/yearly divisions are walkways, that allow you to walk about the plaza without walking on the names. Today, I’ll start at the Northwestern portion, 1962 and walk the walkways. I met the first and then the next Kentuckian who died in the land so far from home.
Back and forth, past 1963 onto 1964, more names appear as our involvement in the unpopular war grew. On my journey, I begin to see the annual ebb and flow of war as fighting slowed during the monsoon season, only to pick back up when it passed.
Clusters of names mark the firefights and battles. Past 1965, 1966, 1967. The greatest cluster of names, the year of greatest losses is in 1968. That year falls on the dial between Noon and 1:00 PM, Eastern Standard Time.
On into 1969. It is on June 19, Battery C of the 138th Artillery of the Kentucky National Guard came under a hellish attack at Fire Base Tomahawk. Of the 117 stationed there to provide fire support for Kentucky’s 101st Airborne, 105 were from the small town of Bardstown. That night, under the cover of a hard rain, the Vietnamese infiltrated and nearly over ran the strategically disadvantaged Fire Base. In the 31/2 hour firefight, Battery C took on heavy casualties-45 wounded, 10 dead, 7, the Sons of Bardstown are here.
On into the ‘70’s until finally, mercifully, the names end in 1975.
When the walk is over, I’ve walked past, looked down on the over 1100 killed in this war. My generation’s war.
Yes, today, I needed to make this walk. I needed to remember. I needed to say, “Thank You.”
On Monday, Veterans Day, there will be a ceremony. Remembrance. If the sun is out it will do its job, effortlessly passing through the sky, allowing the gnomon to silently cast its shadow, its November 11th shadow, on those who fell on this day between 1962 and 1975. At 11:11 AM, as mentioned in the video, its shadow will fall on this spot, commemorating the exact time the Armistice ending World War I, the war to end all wars, was signed. The inscription reads, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
Monday, Veterans Day, there will be a crowd then. They will see the flags and the uniforms, hear the words, and the twenty-one guns. And Taps. They will remember those honored here in their own way.
In the past, flowers, letters, photos, dog tags, combat boots and even an unopened beer can or two have been left on the plaza to remember those here. Folks will wander, seek out, find and point to a name. Some will stand and snap a picture with their smart phones. Others will drop to get closer, to rub their fingers over the letters one more time.
Still others, those who need more, need a keepsake, will drop to their knees maybe make rubbings of their loved one’s name.
That’s another unique feature about Helm Roberts’ memorial that is not found in others, including The Wall. To experience this Memorial fully, you have to go to a special place... to your knees.
It’s there we prayed the war would end. It’s there we prayed they would not have to go. It’s there we prayed for their protection and their quick and safe return. It’s there we pray for strength to continue without them. It’s there we pray we never have to send another one to war again.
a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.
My journey is soon over as is the race. Driving away, the radio says that Denny Hamlin won. I’ve seen that before. He did it in dominating fashion. Nothing new. Isn’t that how all the races in the Round of Eight were settled? Chase Elliott has bad luck. Nothing new here either as this race is no different than his previous two. Joey Logano missed the Championship Race by just a few points. Isn’t that the Penske story this year?
Did I really miss that much? I’ll watch later in the week and decide.
The Byrd’s Turn! Turn! Turn! Ecclesiastes-based lyrics keep running through my mind...
For everything Turn! Turn! Turn! there is a season Turn! Turn! Turn!
The words speak the truth... for everything there is a season. Including...
A time to watch a race.
A time to stop and say “Thanks.”
To all who have served to keep this country free. I, we, are forever indebted to you, for your dedication, your service and for the price you paid... Thank you!