"In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield."
- Douglas MacArthur
America stood in the middle of the crowd, his hands in his pockets, staring at his feet. They were quieter and more subdued than most crowds he was used to, muttering amongst each other with sad, serious faces. He didn't speak; he had no-one to speak to and nothing to say. For once in his life, he hadn't come to talk. He simply stood there, letting the low murmuring wash over him and hearing nothing.
The noise died down and stopped. America looked up; there was a man on the podium now, dressed in an official uniform and waiting patiently for silence. One by one, everyone turned to face him.
"We assemble here today," he started, his voice carrying easily through the silent crowd, "to pay our respects to those soldiers who died giving their lives for this great nation. Even as we draw ever nearer to the fortieth anniversary of the war's end, the pain still runs fresh for many of us here."
Tell me about it.
America didn't want to hear any more. He turned and slipped away through the crowd as quietly as he could, whispering 'excuse me's and 'sorry's as he passed. He reached the edge and stepped onto the path, the sound from the service fading as he walked away.
It only took him minutes to reach the war memorial. Shiny, black and austere, it stood out from its surroundings like a tombstone stands out from a field, surprising him as it always did with its sheer length. That many? He stopped and lifted his right hand, the one that still had a faint scar, and ran his finger across the first name, feeling the bumps of the engraving. A face swam into his mind - a boy, no older than nineteen, with a lopsided smile and hair that would never lie flat. The next name. Thirty-four, his nose crooked after a fall from his bicycle and a wife waiting for him to come home. He had never known them, not really, but he never forgot one of his citizens.
He moved slowly down the memorial, reading each name, remembering each face. Red hair. Glasses. Freckles. A pair of lucky socks. A premature bald patch; that had worried him more than the Vietcong. The memorial contained fifty-eight thousand one hundred and ninety-five names and America read every single one of them, never stopping, never daunted by how far he still had to go. He did this every year, on the anniversary of the day he left her. As long as he kept coming back, kept forcing himself to remember every name and every face that had been lost for his sake, he could be sure he would never forget her. The one even the hero couldn't save.
By the time America reached the end of the wall, the sun was setting and people were starting to leave. The service had finished hours ago and all that were left were the last few lingering visitors, gathering their belongings to leave. He ran his finger over the last name - shorter than average (he'd always hated that) but still the best sprinter at his high school - and stopped, staring at the floor, lost in thought.
He had a world meeting to attend tomorrow; he needed his sleep or England would make fun of him. Maybe it was time to leave.
Dragging his eyes up from the floor, America thrust his hands back into his pockets and began to walk back down the path towards the city. For no reason in particular, he looked back at the memorial over his shoulder, and that was when he saw her.
She was crouched down, laying a wreath of flowers at the base of the wall, her long, black hair falling in her eyes as she bent her head. America froze and spun around; she looked up and brushed her hair back and he realised that it wasn't her. She looked similar - same soft features, same dark eyes - but she was just a regular citizen, someone come to pay her respects to the dead. Even so, when she turned her back to him and walked away, he could almost imagine that she was.
In her hair, she wore a pink lotus.
The Vietnam War was one of the most devastating conflicts of the twentieth century. Over eleven hundred thousand North Vietnamese combatants, including Vietcong, were killed along with two hundred and fifty thousand South Vietnamese. Over fifty-eight thousand Americans died, including those missing in action and dead in captivity. The Australia and New Zealand Army Corps lost four hundred and eighty-one, South Korea lost over five thousand, China lost fifteen hundred and it can be estimated that North Korea lost several dozen. Approximately two million civilians were killed, but the Vietnamese public suffered for long after the end of the war from illnesses and starvation caused by American chemical warfare and destruction of the jungle. Despite this, Vietnam has risen from the ashes and is now one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It still suffers from its fair share of problems but is on its way to becoming a more stable and developed nation.
A/N: Well, that was one hell of a ride. I was so emotionally invested in this by the end it wasn't even funny - I cried writing it and I'd been planning how it was going to finish right from the beginning. Thank you so much if you've read this entire thing. I'd just like you to know that you are awesome. I hope you learned something and enjoyed the story. Learning about the past and remembering what occurred are the first steps towards making sure nothing like this ever happens again. Ironically enough, my history teacher told me yesterday that we're going to be doing the Vietnam War next term. Someone's going to ace history this semester... ^_^