'We Were Soldiers'

Rev. Al Sharpton, left, arrives to Michael Jackson's funeral at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif., on Thursday Sept. 3, 2009. Jackson is scheduled to be interred in the Great Mausoleum, where he will be joining Hollywood legends such as Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and W.C. Fields. Other men are unidentified. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles) AP Photo/Matt Sayles

This Veterans Day — the day that Americans honor the men and women who have served the U.S. in wartime — marks the 20th anniversary of the memorial known simply as The Wall. CBS News National Correspondent Thalia Assuras reports for The Early Show.

It is the most visited memorial in the nation's capital, but it originated from the country's least popular war and was built amid controversy.

Almost 80 million people have visited The Wall over the years to read the 58,229 names and get a reflection of themselves as they contemplate the meaning of not just the Vietnam War, but also every American war.

For only the third time since it was built, all the names inscribe on The Wall are being read aloud over four days.

"This wall is not a man on a horse. This wall is not a statue of a guy with a sword in his hand," says retired Lt. Gen. Hal Moore. "This is a wall which has the names of over 58,000 American soldiers who were killed in a no-win tragic war."

Movie star Mel Gibson portrayed Moore in the movie "We Were Soldiers." Gibson repeated the memorable line first said by his real-life character, who said, "I will be the first to step on the field and I will be the last to step off and I will leave no one behind."

True to his word, Moore did just that. In the first major battle of the Vietnam War at Eye Drang, Moore heroically led his vastly outnumbered men in a non-stop three-day firefight through the "Valley of the Shadow of Death."

"They were young, so young and in their natural prime," says Moore of his troops in Vietnam. "That's what makes you so broken-hearted, their whole lives gone."

Joe Galloway was a young reporter dropped into the Eye Drang to cover the battle. He dropped his camera and picked up a rifle to save his life and help Moore's soldiers who were about to be over-run.

"I can walk this thing and I can visualize, not names, but faces, and I can see them in their prime in their uniforms marching across those rice paddies just like yesterday," says a solemn Galloway.

Galloway and Moore have remained close friends since Eye Drang and co-wrote the book that became the movie "We Were Soldiers."

Many Americans believed the U.S. should never have entered the Southeast Asian conflict, that generated many lies and political motives, that caused so much blood to run in a war that divided the country. The memorial, a project founded in 1979 by infantryman Jan Scruggs, was also touched by controversy.

Out of more than 1,400 designs in an open competition, it was the vision of 21-year-old Maya Lin, an American Yale student of Chinese descent, picked to remember the Vietnam veterans.

Visitors warm the black granite as they touch the names of loved ones and take home a missing piece of their heart by stenciling an inscription on paper. Sometimes, they leave messages and mementos of mourning.

"Each one of these names is hundreds of years of grief and heartbreak down through the decades," says Moore.
  • Rome Neal

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