How many are dead a little blond girl asks her mother

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"How many are dead?" a little blondgirl asks her mother."All of them," her mother replies."Mommy, is this one dead" asks thegirl,pointing to a name."Yes."She points to another name.'"This one?""All of them are.""This one?" the little girl chirps.Pointing to more names. "This one? Thisone?"Meanwhile, a seven-day candle hasbeen left at panel 15 East. A young manlit the candle, touched a name on line 54,then hurried away. He spoke to no one;no one spoke to him. Manyvisitors atthe wall radiate the same message: Leaveme alone.A swarm of junior high school kids,one of several busloads every day, hasdescended on the wall in high spirits.They chatter and giggle, hardlynoticing the monument. A familyclusters at a panel, snappingphotographs of themselves with thewall as a backdrop. A volunteer helpsthem take "a rubbing" - an imprintmade by placing a sheet of paper overthe name and rubbing a crayon acrossit.A few feet away, a young, well-dressed black man squats motionlessjust inches from the wall. His gaze isriveted to a name; his eyes seemunable to disengage. Minutes go by.The kids leave; he is still staring. Avolunteer at the wall approaches himand does a rubbing of the name. Theman slips the paper into his pocket.He rises slowly, shakily, andproceeds along the sidewalk, half-glancing at the granite.On theother side, he takes a seat at a parkbench. He says his name is RonaldTownsend and he's from Queens,N.Y."I was in Vietnam in 1968 and '69,"he says, "the fellow I came to visit, Iwas his burial escort. He was fromChelmsford, Mass. I was 18 at thetime, and he was 20. And his familyreally left an impression on me. Theyhelped me out a lot in terms ofsetting my own values in life. And soperhaps . . . in some way or another,he is living through me, I feel that. Sothat's why I came today."It is hisfirst visit."I didn't think the wall was going tohave an impact," he says. "I justthought that people overdramatizedit. But it does have an impact.Ittakes you . . . it stops time. It makesyou feel that you're back here, all overagain" His eyes fill with tears. He looksaway, toward he long reflecting poolin front of the Lincoln Memorial.He had a rough time when he cameback. But now he has a good job withan airline and wants to think about thefuture.It is not that easy."I volunteered forthe Army," he says. "I volunteered togo to Vietnam. That was even worse."He gives a short, sad chuckle. "Ihaven't been able to forget it. You tryto put it out of your mind, but youcan't. I was young, and I hadconfidence nothing was going tohappen. To my luck, it didn't. I cameback in one piece. I feel kind of guiltyabout that. That's one of the things I'mtrying to get over."He pulls the imprint from his pocket,touches the name. When he is asked ifhe will contact the young soldier'sparents again, he cannot answerbecause he is crying.

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