More Than a Name

The original version of this was posted in May 2020.

David Charles Marshall Jackson was his name. The poor kid was named after his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father. That’s the price one pays to be the second son whose older brother was not stuck with ancestral names. You get them all, at least in the Ballard-Jackson clan in 1947. Yet, regardless of the reason for our names, we are each more than a name.  

In David’s case, he did his best to stand out as something other than the vessel carrying the memories of others. And he was lucky in a way. By the time he was born, we’d already been through the saga of nicknames or diminutive names with my given name. If that little battle had not been fought before his arrival, he’d have been known as little Davy or little Charley for the rest of his life. Thanks to our great-grandfather’s no-nonsense demeanor, David was David from birth. 

Names matter in ways beyond simple identification and differentiation. Yet, the primary purpose of a name in society is identification. Think of a first-grade teacher riding herd on a dozen or so students. Without names, the teacher would call out something like, “Hey! You, the little boy in the red shirt in the back left corner of the room.” Instead, the teacher can say, “David, can you read the first line on the board?”

Yet, we are much more than a name. For example, at this moment, if someone googled my first and last name, they might find a former professional basketball player. They could find some academic types, as my given name and surname seem to have pushed many people into research, teaching, and writing, myself included. However, each person found would be different in many ways, bringing me to this piece’s point.

According to the latest figures I could find, David is one of 58,318 Vietnam casualties whose names are on the Wall. Of course, there are thousands upon thousands more names in cemeteries, on other monuments, and in government records listing those who died in the service of our country. Wherever the name is found, remember that it is more than letters engraved on a wall, a headstone, or another marker.

Each of those names represents a human being. They were a child, brother, sister, husband, father, wife, mother, or some combination of those identities. Their sacrifice left a hole in someone’s heart. A hole that may never heal.

More Than a Name on a Wall*

*Click to see and hear a musical tribute to those listed on the Wall. An ad may pop up first, but you can skip it after a few seconds.

© – 2023

About S. Eric Jackson

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2 Responses to More Than a Name

  1. Phil Strawn says:

    I’ve visited the wall twice; once soon after it was completed and then again in the 90s. I had friends that served in Viet Nam, and a few that perished there. I found their names and then the tears came. I wasn’t embarrassed because there were others doing the same. The violence of the 60s, and that war came rushing back. The second time I visited, I wasn’t an emotional wreck.

    • I was in D.C. a number of times in the 1990-2010 time period and visited the Wall several times. It was always a moving experience. Thankfully, we were able to lay David to rest here, so visiting the wall was not as emotional as it could have been. I did have a great and moving experience several years ago. I wrote about it in a piece titled “A Promise Kept.” Here’s the link if you want to check it out.

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