It’s been at least 20 years since I took the photo probably more. It was stashed and forgotten in one of those old photo albums where the pages yellow over time. The photo was taken around Christmas and shows a little Santa Claus. But look closer. It shows so much more.
Behind the festive Santa Claus, it’s hard to see, but those are the names of the more than 58,000 people etched into history.
You see, I took the photo at the Vietnam memorial in Washington, DC. At the time I remember being struck by the idea that someone left a memento for a friend or a loved one. Maybe they were in combat together. Maybe they were siblings. Whatever the reason, someone felt the need to make sure a name on that wall was never forgotten.
Today, on this Memorial Day weekend, I found the photo again. For the first time in years I took a close look at that photo. The Santa Claus is wearing a Vietnam pin. It also has a Hard Rock Cafe pin, “love all serve all”. There’s another pin on Santa’s cap. And there’s something else too. There’s a baseball. Today, more than 20 years after I took the photo, I got a magnifying glass and really looked at that baseball. It said, “Here’s a foul ball from Comiskey Park and a cup”. I can only imagine the souvenirs tell a story. Maybe you never got to Comiskey for that game you always talked about. Maybe it was a lifelong dream.
The photo has faded over time, but for many, the names have not. I wanted the person who left the Santa and the baseball to know I was touched by their tribute. I wanted them to know their loved one on the wall is in my thoughts. Maybe this photo will make it back to them all these years later.