"When I first heard about Clinton's avoidance of the draft, I thought about it a lot. Then I decided he has to live with it just the way I have to live with what I did. I voted for the man. We have to go on with the future."
Paul Ryan, a 43-year-old electrician in Buchanan, N.Y., said he voted for Clinton for one main reason: "I don't think President Bush did anything for veterans."
By and large, the Vietnam veterans who have come to Washington this week, some in wheelchairs, some on crutches, appear less concerned with the President-elect and politics than with the poignancy of their experience and the wall.
From Sunday onward, long lines of volunteers--some relatives, some buddies, some officers, some outsiders--have stepped to a pair of microphones to read aloud the 58,132 names inscribed on the 247 feet of granite that stretches along a knoll near the Lincoln Memorial. The reading will end today.
The names of all the war dead are arranged on the wall in chronological order of death. New visitors often follow a routine that has become ritual. They look up the name in thick directories, head for the designated section of the wall, search for the name, touch each letter and weep.
While the reading aloud has proceeded this week, another group of Vietnam veterans staged separate ceremonies nearby. Members of the Yakima and Lummi Indian nations of the state of Washington are honoring their own Vietnam dead. Some wearing native American blankets, they circle a kind of totem: a large feathered pole coming out of combat boots alongside a knapsack, military helmet and a pair of Indian moccasins.
While drums are beaten and bells are shaken, an elder calls out: "We will sound the names on the roll call and they will hear us. They have made a trail for us, though they were younger." After the calling of half a dozen names, a low, mournful chant begins, soft enough not to interfere with the reading of the names on the wall.