Remarks at the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, Storytelling, Memorial Day 2005
William Edwards

In the early sixties, World War II and Korean veterans questioned whether the new generation of young people possessed the same sense of duty to their country as their forefathers did. The answer to that question can be seen right over there on that wall and here at this memorial. And whether one agrees with the war in which my generation was engaged, or not, we served our country in the highest tradition of the Armed Forces.
Not long ago many of us may have questioned whether this current generation of young people was up to the military challenges that face us at the beginning of this new century. Could they stand up to the latest threat to the American way of life? I am pleased to say that we are in good hands. The same spirit of patriotism, honor, courage, and sense of duty found in their forefathers is, indeed, alive in this generation of youth. Some of those brave American's who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are with us for this celebration. To them, I say, we are extremely proud of you and we welcome you home.
Today we honor all Americans who served in our Armed Forces. To you who are now serving, we pray for your well-being. To the veterans among us, you who are wounded and disabled; you whose hearts bear the suffering of war, we offer our undying gratitude. And to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us, gratitude is not enough. In this moment, we grieve for you and your families. We wonder what your lives together would have been like, had your life not been taken. We wonder what dreams were left unfulfilled.
But this we know, you are not forgotten. You will never be forgotten. We know the priceless gift you have given us. To all of you, you are precious in our eyes and honored.
My poetry is simple. And there are reasons for this. First, I'm simple. Second, and most important, I don't want any confusion about what I'm trying to say. There is only one interpretation to the words I'm inspired to write. So, simply put, I want folks to get it.
I wrote this poem for the tenth anniversary of the dedication of this memorial. And I was honored to be able to read it here on Veteran's Day, 2003. Although it was written in honor of nurses that served in Vietnam, I believe it is appropriate for, and can be applied to, nurses that served in any war, and, of course, those that are serving now.
There are thousands of wounded veteran's that could not attend this celebration today. Many of these former soldiers have been able to marry, raise children, and enjoy grandchildren because of the heroic service of military nurses. If these veteran's were here, there is something they would want to say to you, whose dedication and sacrifice made it possible for them to survive their wounds.
So, in simple words, and on their behalf, I would like to tell all of you former combat nurses what they would likely tell you if they could.

I would like to thank you,
As I rise to meet the day-
For the songs of birds and sunshine's kiss,
And the gift of getting gray.
I would like to thank you,
For the gentle breeze I feel-
The scarred legs that carry me to work,
And how you helped them heal.
I would like to thank you,
For the grandkid's that abound-
How they like to sit on grandpa's lap,
And the joy they bring around.
I would like to thank you,
For the sacrifice you made-
How you left your friends and family,
When you could have easily stayed.
I would like to thank you,
For the men you kept alive-
From treating wounds to giving hope,
You're the reason they survive.
I would like to thank you,
For the time you spen crying-
And the grief carried deep inside,
For all the soldiers dying.
I would like to thank you,
For the nights you didn't sleep-
And the horrible things you had to see,
Without the time to weep.
I would like to thank you,
For the nightmares you may see-
The smells that haunt your memory,
From which you can't get free.
I would like to thank you,
For the guts to volunteer-
The selfless service to your country,
Is why we hold you dear.
So, I just want to thank you,
It's the proper thing to do-
For all the dad's and granddad's,
Who are alive because of you.

Finally, Diane asked me to consider writing a new poem for today. I'm glad she did, because I've had one stuck in me for quite some time. I was inspired by a personal experience, but I'm sure the scene described has been played out hundreds of times at memorials all over this country. My heart was touched as I wrote these words. I hope your heart will be touched as you hear them.

A family came to visit,
In the breezeless morning calm-
To a place that honors women,
Who served in Vietnam.
From the group a figure moved,
Much closer to the stone-
And with a hand she reached to touch,
Then wept there all alone.
Just behind in arms of love,
A child was softly sighing-
Though simple words, they touch the heart,
"Daddy, why is grandma crying?"
"Well, my darling, long ago,
Our country was at war-
Men were being wounded there,
At first a few, then more.
The boys, they needed help,
Someone to see them through-
That's why grandma volunteered,
To do what she could do.
No, she didn't have to serve,
Many nurses chose to stay-
But not your grandma, honey,
And so, she went away.
Now she holds the memories,
Of all the pain and death-
Frightened boys whose hands she held,
As they took their final breath.
And, of course, there are the times,
When grandma cannot sleep-
Visions of some hopeless sight,
Aren't buried very deep.
But most of all grandma grieves,
For the boys she couldn't save-
And a mother on a Veteran's Day,
As she weeps at her son's grave.
Standing here her mind brings back,
The suffering and the dying-
So, my darling, now you know,
Why your grandma's crying

Poems by William Edwards