But everything is always new, even when it's old, so although I went to the Lincoln Memorial and saw that old familiar face, and read the Gettysburg Address etched into one wall, and wondered really what to think or feel that hadn't been felt a million times before, I also eavesdropped on two young student types, who I think were probably of Indian heritage-- from India, I mean, or maybe Pakistan--and one asked the other, do you think there will ever be a president again who people will build such a monument to? His friend thought it was possible, but he thought not. He said that people don't idolize presidents in the same way anymore. His friend thought that some situation might be possible, that a lot depended on context. I don't know if Lincoln was so popular while he was still hale and hearty, and I wonder a bit why Kennedy has no monument, if assassination is a key to people remembering you in a favorable light. It was Kennedy, not Lincoln, who seemed to be hovering as a ghostly presence over my journey. Still, it is a marvelous thing to stand at the Lincoln memorial at night and hear the gentle debate of immigrants' children, if not immigrants themselves, wondering aloud about the status of presidents past and present.
That night too, and it was a nighttime trip we made between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, we visited the Vietnam War Memorial. I had declined on the Korean War Memorial as my foot was bothering me, but I thought I'd tick this one off, when I suddenly remembered that I knew someone who would be memorialized here. There are little directory style books that help you figure out where a name might be located, and it actually wasn't much trouble at all to find this one. I had never met this person--he died before I met his sister, but I felt that I did know him a little, because once, a long time ago, she had given me some of his letters to read. I am of the age just a little beyond many of the vets of that war, but in another version of life I might have known him. His decision to join the army rather than resist was a decision born of conscience, not a desire to go to war. He was one of the few UCSC students to go and die there. I have just learned that while in Vietnam, he wrote frequent letters to the UCSC student paper, City On a Hill. It would be interesting to read these if they are archived somewhere.
We found his name in the wall by flashlight. My sister very helpfully took a picture. George Walter Skakel, I am sorry I never had the chance to meet you.