Grave Goods at the Bakersfield Vietnam Memorial


The Bakersfield Vietnam Memorial is difficult to photograph because the sun is often behind it. I visited the memorial late in the afternoon on Good Friday and found the memorial lit by afternoon light and crossed by sensuous long shadows. I also found a grave good attached to the memorial. 

These sorts of objects are rare, but not too uncommon in my travels. Grave goods were objects in ancient times that were placed in the deceased's grave to aid them in the afterlife, such as coins being left on the deceased's eyes to ensure safe passage to the underworld. 

As I've thought about it over time, the grave goods left at the Vietnam memorials I've visited are different. Rather than objects meant to accompany the dead, the grave goods at the memorials seem to fall into two categories.

The first is a photograph of a service member listed on the memorial to let us, the visitors, know something about them; to remind us that they were real people, rather than just names; to add a face to the name. The second is a poem or song meant for those commemorated by the memorial. I've seen poems and songs framed, or loose, held down by a rock, hand-written, printed, typed, with drawings, and it's the poem and song that seems to me to be the closest to the grave goods of ancient times, as they are intended to reach through the boundaries of one world into another.

This piece is St. Crispin's Speech, considered one of Shakespeare's most heroic, taken from Henry V. It reads:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition;

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed

Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

This grave good at the Bakersfield memorial raises so many questions. Is the presenter related to someone listed, perhaps whose name is next to the rose, or was it intended for all listed on the memorial? No, upon closer examination when I return later I see that there is evidence that other suction cups have been placed on the memorial, carefully positioned to avoid covering any of the names. How often do they leave notes? Is the day they left the notes important? Is it more than one person? I hope one day I learn these answers.