I’ve become fascinated, and sometimes horrified, by the ways we choose to remember our wars and the men and women who died fighting them. During a recent ten-day stay in Indianapolis to work on my play, Red Badge Variations, or The Red Animal, at the Bonderman New Play Prize and Symposium at Indiana Repertory Theater, I played hooky to explore the city’s War Memorial Plaza and Museum.
I’ll write about the Museum in a future post; today I want to show you the plaza.
Spring had popped during the past week, and Indy’s gorgeous flowering trees hovered like low-lying clouds along the pathways.
The park is dotted with simple and moving memorials to Indiana soldiers who died in wars of the last century. Oh, there are a few grandiose, martial eagles
and death-worshiping sarcophagi, such as this gloomy, star-studded shrine.
But I was deeply moved by the memorials to soldiers who died in Vietnam, World War II and Korea,
and particularly by excerpts from soldiers’ letters home that are cut into the stone, followed by the date of death. There is a home-spun quality to the beautifully selected letters with their sometimes idiosyncratic spellings.
Some soldiers convey hard-won insights.
Others write of the brutal facts of life at war.
And others convey a bravado all the more poignant for its transparency.
By allowing the letters to stand as is, without comment or correction, these memorials remind us of the irreplaceable individuality of the soldiers we send into battle, and of the ripples of suffering that each death sends out into the world.
As of today, the death toll for American service members in our current war in Afghanistan stands at 1,540.
Story by Melissa Cooper