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Mallory Fencil: Giving voice to the fallen

SCV Voices

Posted: September 30, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 30, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

SANTA CLARTA - I’m not good at talking to audiences. I don’t like talking to audiences. When I am excited, I talk quickly and in a painfully high pitch. When I am emotional, not even my parents, who’ve had 20 years to learn, can understand my words.

I pinched the bridge of my nose several times, willing myself to slow down. A phrase of harsh encouragement was playing on a loop in my head, one I cannot repeat here.

I was out of my comfort zone. But I wasn’t doing this for me. My voice was not mine for this half hour; it belonged to the names I was saying, the names engraved on the wall behind me.

From the first few seconds that I spoke their names, the servicemen who lost their lives in the Vietnam War owned my vocal cords. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone was gifting the fallen with a voice again. My insecurities could wait.

I’m not an emotional person; crying is not my “go to” emotional release, but as I sat with my mother at 8 p.m. Friday and we read aloud the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, that was the response my body was attempting.

It’s silly: I am not related to any of those names; I don’t have a personal attachment to any of them. There are people who lost relatives who aren’t losing it. There are people who witnessed these men’s and women’s deaths who aren’t losing it.

Yet there I was: losing it.

Friday night, my family and I visited the AVTT Traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall at the Westfield Valencia Town Center parking lot. But we weren’t just visiting the wall.

A few weeks prior, my mother suggested that we volunteer at the wall together. We signed up to read names.
For the first time ever, the names on the wall are being read aloud by volunteers during the current visit of the Traveling Wall to Santa Clarita. Previously, only recordings saying the names on the wall have been played.

Volunteers signed up in half-hour increments for every moment from 8 p.m. Thursday to 4:30 this afternoon.

Names. Just names, I told myself as I read.

But as much as it would have helped to convince myself the engraved letters in the wall’s panels were simply names, that task was impossible. There is no mistaking the importance of the words on that wall.

My first encounter with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall occurred when I was 7 years old. A family day trip to Washington, D.C., provided me with the opportunity to run my fingers along the hollow spaces in the stone. The moment was powerful, even for the young girl who later that day got kicked off the frozen Reflection Pool. I remember seeing my reflection in both the wall and the ice of the aptly named body of water that day.

My parents warned me, before approaching the wall, about the necessary respectfulness of proximity to it and the gravity of the memorial’s existence.

Those names were people. Those hollow spaces reflected the emptiness those deaths created. But I did not feel the pull to cry in Washington, D.C.

A week ago, a series of profiles I wrote on local Vietnam veterans began publication in The Signal. Running through Wednesday, the series included stories from three veterans whom I had the pleasure of interviewing one on one.

They told me stories about men whose names are on the memorial, men who were not much older than me when they died. The men who perished in my articles were barely more than boys. I did not cry as I heard the stories outlining carnage and death.

But the tears burned my eyes on Friday. I imagined that some of these men didn’t have any family left, that they weren’t remembered anywhere anymore. The brief moments when their names were once again said out loud provided a chance for them to be remembered again, to be honored again.

For a brief time my existence was entirely centered on each serviceman’s name, and his sacrifice was more important than anything else in this life.

It was a privilege to join the other volunteer readers enhancing people’s visits to the Traveling Wall. Giving those names the chance to fall from the mouth of a living person again was an amazing experience.

Mallory Fencil is a Santa Clarita Valley resident and a freelance journalist for Signal Multimedia.

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