Items Left at The Wall

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letter, handwritten

  • Catalog Number:VIVE 17301
  • Accession Date:6/2/1988
  • Item Summary:Handwritten letter. The letter is addressed, "Hi Jim", is signed, "Love / Paul", is undated, and opens with the line, "I am sorry I haven't written sooner but its [sic] been tough." In content, the letter is a message from a younger brother to an older brother killed in Vietnam just prior to completion of his tour of duty. The author writes about learning of his brother's death that, "I'll never forget coming home from school and finding a priest and service man there to break the news to me", and notes that, "A couple days later I got your letter telling me you were finishing up your tour in Nam and going to Germany, but I guess Nam wouldn't let you go. / You were so close." Paul assures his brother that his homecoming wishes were honored, stating that, "[...] I put the case of beer in the fridge like you wanted and kept your promotion a secret", and closes his letter with the promise and postscript, "Well I have to go know [sic] but I will always come back and visit [...] (P.S. I drank the case of beer)". The artifact was left at The Wall by a donor identified only as, "Paul" on June 1, 1988.

letter, handwritten

  • Catalog Number:VIVE 17325
  • Accession Date:6/2/1988
  • Item Summary:Handwritten letter. The letter is addressed to, "Dan", is from, "Bob (Slick) Serena", is undated, and opens with the line, "I come here today to remember you & all other brothers who died." In content, the letter represents Mr. Serena's attempt to say goodbye to Dan and to all of his former comrades in arms, and to move forward with his life as a result. The author acknowledges that, "I forgot the names but I will never forget the faces. / God how could I forget the faces? / I have had all of you with me. / For the past 16 years in everything I've done, I've had you & remembered you", and states that, "I've tried to do all I can for the Vietnam vets that made it back with 1/2 the mind or 1/2 there [sic] bodys [sic] & I always will." Mr. Serena concludes his letter with a postscript to his friend reading, "One more thing Dan, remember that last time we saw each other, when you were laying [sic] in my arms, we said we would have a beer togther [sic] when we got back to the world, well here it is. / I love & miss you guys." The artifact was left at The Wall by U.S. Army and Vietnam veteran Robert "Slick" Serena between April - June 1988.

letter & poem, printed


  • Catalog Number:VIVE 17306
  • Accession Date:6/2/1988
  • Associated Name(s) on The Wall: N/A
  • Item Summary:Printed letter & poem housed inside plastic document sleeves. The letter is dated, "May 1988", is signed, "Jean Ellen Riva / Wyoming, Mich.", and opens with the lines, "A year and two decades ago I was a naive, carefree girl in my twenties with a string of nearly thirty-five pen pals. / They were all stationed in Vietnam." The letter references the author's struggles over a failed relationship with a former Vietnam serviceman pen pal, which was destroyed by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and closes with the lines, "They were so young and bright and they wanted nothing more than to fulfill their military obligations and come home to resume their lives. / I hope they did. / I'll always mourn those who didn't." The accompanying poem is entitled, "First Love" and speaks of the failed relationship in bittersweet terms, concluding that, "We were / Both Victims / of the same Damned Bloody War." The artifact was left at The Wall by Jean Ellen Riva in May 1988.
  • Accession Group:VIVE-00050
  • Record Component Qty:5
  • Item Description:PRINTED LETTER & POEM. THE OBJECT CONSISTS OF A LETTER AND ACCOMPANYING POEM PRINTED IN BLACK INK AND BLOCK SCRIPT/ARABIC NUMERALS UPON THREE (3) SHEETS OF RECTANGULARLY SHAPED, WHITE, UNLINED PAPER. THE SHEET BEARING THE PRINTED LETTER AND THE SHEET BEARING THE FIRST (1ST) PAGE OF THE TWO (2) PAGE PRINTED POEM ARE PRESENTLY HOUSED BACK-TO-BACK INSIDE A CLEAR POLY-PLASTIC, THREE (3) HOLE-PUNCHED DOCUMENT SLEEVE WITH THE LETTER AT THE OBVERSE OBJECT SURFACE AND THE POEM AT THE REVERSE OBJECT SURFACE. THE SHEET BEARING THE SECOND (2ND) PAGE OF THE TWO (2) PAGE PRINTED POEM IS PRESENTLY HOUSED INSIDE A CLEAR POLY-PLASTIC, THREE (3)-HOLE PUNCHED DOCUMENT SLEEVE WHICH IS AFFIXED TO THE REVERSE OBJECT SURFACE OF THE OTHER DOCUMENT SLEEVE VIA METAL STAPLES. THE LETTER IS DATED, "MAY 1988", IS HAND-SIGNED IN BLUE INK AND CURSIVE SCRIPT, "JEAN ELLEN RIVA / WYOMING, MICH.", AND OPENS WITH THE LINES, "A YEAR AND TWO DECADES AGO I WAS A NAIVE, CAREFREE GIRL IN MY TWENTIES WITH A STRING OF NEARLY THIRTY-FIVE PEN PALS. / THEY WERE ALL STATIONED IN VIETNAM." IN CONTENT, THE AUTHOR OF THE LETTER EXPLAINS THAT FOR A YEAR-AND-A-HALF SHE COMPOSED AND SENT LETTERS AND GREETING CARDS TO HER AMERICAN SERVICEMEN PEN PALS WHOSE, "[...] NAMES WERE LISTED IN THE MAIL CALL COLUMN OF THE LOCAL NEWSPAPER", AND NOTES THAT, "IT WAS AN EX-PERIENCE [sic] THAT HAD A PROFOUND AFFECT [sic] ON MY LIFE." THE AUTHOR THEN PROCEEDS TO COMMUNICATE HER AWARENESS OF THE SAFE RETURN OF SOME OF HER VIETNAM PEN PALS, AND FOLLOWS UP WITH THE OBSERVATION THAT, "[...] I COME TO THE VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL TODAY HOPING THAT I'LL BE ABLE TO LEAVE THE WALL STILL WONDERING ABOUT THEIR FATE. / BUT DAMN IT, I'LL PROBABLY FIND SOME OF THEIR NAMES INSCRIBED IN THE GRANITE!" THE AUTHOR SUBSEQUENTLY RELATES THAT SHE ONLY MET ONE OF HER FORMER PEN PALS IN PERSON, STATES THAT HE NEARLY DESTROYED HER LIFE AS A CONSEQUENCE OF HIS STRUGGLES WITH POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD), AND AGONIZES THAT, "I REGRET THAT I COULDN'T HAVE UNDERSTOOD AND FORGIVEN BACK THEN WHEN IT MIGHT HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE." THE AUTHOR THEN CLOSES HER LETTER BY NOTING THAT SHE HAD RECENTLY REREAD THE LETTERS EXCHANGED WITH HER VIETNAM SERVICEMEN PEN PALS, ACKNOWLEDGES THAT SHE MISSED MUCH IN THE WAY OF CONTEXT AND THE UNSPOKEN WORDS, "IN BETWEEN THE LINES", AND CONCLUDES HER LETTER WITH THE LINES, "THEY WERE SO YOUNG AND BRIGHT AND THEY WANTED NOTHING MORE THAN TO FULFILL THEIR MILITARY OBLIGATIONS AND COME HOME TO RESUME THEIR LIVES. / I HOPE THEY DID. / I'LL ALWAYS MOURN THOSE WHO DIDN'T." THE PRINTED POEM ACCOMPANYING THE LETTER IS ENTITLED, "FIRST LOVE", IS BY AUTHOR, "JEAN ELLEN RIVA", AND IS COMPRISED OF TWELVE (12) STANZAS AND NINETY-FOUR (94) TOTAL LINES. IN CONTENT, THE POEM DISCUSSES THE AUTHOR'S DOOMED FIRST (1ST) LOVE WITH ONE OF THE MANY AMERICAN SERVICEMEN PEN PALS FROM HER YOUTH AND THE SUBSEQUENT IMPACT THE RELATIONSHIP HAD UPON THE COURSE OF HER LIFE. THE POEM ADDRESSES THE HAPPY AND LOVING INITIAL PHASE OF THE RELATIONSHIP, THE UNRAVELING OF THAT HAPPINESS AS HER PARTNER'S PTSD-RELATED ISSUES SPIRALED OUT OF CONTROL, THE MISCARRIAGE OF A CHILD AND THE AUTHOR'S ATTEMPTED SUICIDE, THE PSYCHOLOGICAL TOLL UPON THE AUTHOR AS A CONSEQUENCE OF THE EXPERIENCE OF THE RELATIONSHIP, AND THE EVENTUAL REALIZATION THAT, "WE WERE / BOTH VICTIMS / OF THE SAME DAMNED BLOODY WAR." THE AUTHOR CLOSES HER POEM BY REFLECTING BACK UPON HER EXPERIENCE AND HER PERCEPTION OF THESE EVENTS, AND CONCLUDES WITH THE LINES, "I WONDER IF HE / EVER THINKS / OF THAT / INNOCENT GIRL I USED TO BE." ACCORDING TO VIVE CATALOG NOTES PREPARED BY MRCE COLLECTIONS STAFF, AN NPS RANGER'S TAG ORIGINALLY DISCOVERED WITH THE ARTIFACT READ, "5/593".
  • Associated Item Text: Text of the printed inscriptions upon the letter and accompanying poem is transcribed in full, as follows: [Letter, obverse object surface, printed inscriptions] "May 1988 / A year and two decades ago I was a naive, carefree girl in my twenties with a string of nearly thirty-five pen pals. / They were all stationed in Vietnam. / For a year and a half it seemed like all I did was write letters to them and send out greeting cards to other GI's who's [sic] names were listed in the mail call column of the local newspaper. / It was an ex-perience [sic] that had a profound affect [sic] on my life. / A few of the guys I corresponded with I know for a fact made it back home safe from physical harm but I never knew what happened to most of them. / And I come to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial today hoping that I'll be able to leave The Wall still wondering about their fate. / But damn it, I'll probably find some of their names inscribed in the granite! / I met only one of my pen pals. / He nearly destroyed my life. / It has taken all these years, and a lot of reading a-bout [sic] Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome, to understand and for-give [sic] the things that happened between us all those years ago. / I regret that I couldn't have understood and forgiven back then when it might have made a difference. / Recently, I reread my box full of letters from Vietnam. / There was as much "written" in between the lines as on them. / Frustration and pain and other things that most likely went over my head years ago. / It hurt knowing that the war might have taken, or screwed up, the lives of some of the men who wrote those dusty, yellowed pages. / They were so young and bright and they wanted nothing more than to fulfill their military obligations and come home to resume their lives. / I hope they did. / I'll always mourn those who didn't. / Jean Ellen Riva / Wyoming, Mich. [handwritten signature]" / [Poem, page 1, obverse object surface, printed inscriptions] "First Love by Jean Ellen Riva / From the Central Highlands of Vietnam / he came / straight to my doorstep / Eager to make up for the time / he spent / surrounded by gunfire / and / Bloodshed. / Like lying in heaven was the next few weeks / as he / smothered me with the / displaced love he felt for / The friends he left overseas... / GI's evacuated out / in green / plastic / Bags. / The following six months were the happiest / days of my life... / passionate, / tender, / and / caring... / All the adjectives poets use to describe / two lost souls / Reaching Out / for / each / other. / We spoke not a word of the deep-seated grief / that haunted / his thoughts / or of / the horror / of knowing that an artillery round / his unit directed too short / killed American soldiers. / But the closeness we shared in the beginning / grew cold / as his nightmares / pushed / their way into the day light / and / they quickly destroyed / the fantasy he built up / around wanting to marry me." / [Poem, page 2, obverse object surface, printed inscriptions] "A baby, still hard to talk of, was conceived / then lost, / and it wasn't long after he shoved / me out of his life. / I tried to find my way into one of / those / stiff, / green / plastic / bags. / When that airborne artillery eagle landed / on my doorstep / he brought me / a blueprint / for two decades of not feeling / good enough to keep / the love / other men wanted to give me. / I burried [sic] the bitterness of losing his love / until / not long ago / when finally I realized / he never / meant / to hurt me. / We were / Both Victims / of the same Damned Bloody War. / Knowing the pain that followed the joy / would I relive, if I could, / That part of my life? / Would I taste the sweetness / of / my / first love / knowing / that time would shatter our hopes? / If love really was as beautiful as I remember / it being, / Why did it take all these years / to get / past the hurting? And / now / that I have / I wonder if he / ever thinks / of that / innocent girl I used to be."
  • Item Dimensions and Weight:
    • Item Weight: 55.8g
    • Item Length: 28.6cm
    • Item Width: 23.2cm
    • Item Height: N/A
    • Item Depth: N/A
  • Item Notes:ACCORDING TO VIVE CATALOG NOTES PREPARED BY MRCE COLLECTIONS STAFF, AN NPS RANGER'S TAG ORIGINALLY DISCOVERED WITH THE ARTIFACT READ, "5/593".
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Items left at The Wall - The Virtual Collection

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated on November 13, 1982. Shortly thereafter, visitors to the Memorial began leaving items in memoriam to those killed and missing service members listed on The Wall. These artifacts now collectively comprise the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection -- a museum collection of more than 400,000 items held in the public trust by the National Park Service. Today, this Collection is among the largest and most actively researched collections in the National Capital Region.

The Collection is jointly curated by National Mall and Memorial Parks and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF). The VVMF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that relies upon public donations to continue its work, and receives no federal funding.