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Quiet Desperation

Celebrating a holiday that isn’t about the good times

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She was born in Athens, Ohio, and her family tree was filled with distinction. Didn’t matter. She wasn’t worthy. And her design was so understated and subtle that it was denounced as well. America and Americans are not always beautiful. She was only 21 and a Yale undergraduate when she submitted her proposal in 1981. Her design was chosen over 1,441 others in a “blind” competition. That meant her name was unknown to the judges.

She believes she would not have won if she had been listed by name instead of by number. Many harassed her after her ethnicity was revealed.

Maya Ying Lin.

Lin designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It’s eloquent and elegant, and nothing like war memorials of the past, which generally featured valiant generals or valiant soldiers in their shining moments.

As an artist, I am aware of the limited ability of some — of many — to accept something that might be too contemplative or conceptual.

The negative reaction to Lin’s brilliant design led to the creation of another Vietnam War memorial that features valiant soldiers. Lin’s is far more compelling and important, and it’s always been a wish of mine to meet her.

Veterans Day is coming up. It’s the only holiday that I observe. It’s the only meaningful one that hasn’t been turned into an exaggeration. (I make some gastronomical exceptions for Thanksgiving.)

I lived with a veteran for 17 years. Not once did he talk about it. He didn’t, so I didn’t.

I wish I had. I really wish I had.

Along the way I have done my research, watched documentaries, read up on World War II, and realize what he and others did was beyond my grasp and comprehension.

I had a deferment during the Vietnam War because I was a college student. That war was looked at very unfavorably by college students. Maybe you remember?

Crewcut ROTC classes would march across our campus, and be heckled.

At night, on my little black-and-white television, I’d watch for the score of the Dodgers’ game and the score that day in Vietnam.

If it came to making any kind of insightful commentary about the challenges to the human spirit in wartime, I wouldn’t know what I was talking about.

The veteran I lived with for the first 17 years of my life eventually opened up about his service, but like everything else he spoke about (except Democrats and Ohio State), he did it with restraint and limited emotion.

I am not an extroverted American patriot. I am not an extrovert at anything. The uproar about the national anthem protests hasn’t moved me very much. I think it is misdirected energy, all around.

I have told this story before. A few years ago I went to a regional airport that was hosting a restored B-17, just like “Smoky Liz II,” the one my father flew 30 times.

You could go in it for a few dollars, and go up in it for a few dollars more. I didn’t feel like I deserved to do either one.

I cried that day, and now that my father is on a shelf behind me as I write this, I know I will again on Nov. 11.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.

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