May 25, 1992|By Blair Kamin.
WASHINGTON — If you hail from Chicago, as I do, and if you are a baseball fan, as I am, you couldn`t help but notice it.
And you couldn`t help the lump from growing in your throat.
There it was, at the foot of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, below the black granite walls that contain the names of more than 58,000 Americans who died in the war.
It was a clear glass box, no bigger than the orange crates they throw away at the supermarket.
Inside was a brick bearing a small plaque that identified the brick as a relic from the old Comiskey Park.
On each side of the brick was a doll, their faces resembling those of baby bears. The doll to the left was dressed in a White Sox uniform. The doll to the right wore the blue pinstripes of the Chicago Cubs.
But that`s not all the dolls were wearing.
A Purple Heart was pinned to the chest of the Sox doll. And a GI`s dogtags were hung around the neck of the Cubs doll.
There was more.
A ticket to a Statler Brothers concert was stuck to the top of the glass box. And taped to the front of the box were three or four snapshots, each picturing a headstone in a cemetery.
I bent my knees to try to read the names on the headstones. One seemed to say “Falco,“ but I couldn`t tell.
It was dusk on a warm, spring evening, a few weeks before Memorial Day. The darkness made it difficult to read the names on the headstones. I didn`t want to sprawl on all-fours at the site of a revered national memorial. So I stood up and I noticed that other people were as riveted by this lovingly crafted tribute as I was.
A teenage boy wearing a black White Sox cap stopped and stared. A middle- age woman stood a few feet back from the Wall, as it is informally known, and said of the people who had left the glass box, “They must have been from Chicago.“
But who were they? And who were they commemorating?
Ever since the V-shape memorial was dedicated in 1982, thousands of Americans have left intensely personal, occasionally astonishing, items there: wedding rings, black-and-white TV sets, Christmas trees. More than 25,000 mementos have been laid down, leading the National Park Service, which administers the memorial, to open a warehouse in Lanham, Md., to house them all.
Many of the tributes are offered anonymously, leaving few clues about whom they were meant to memorialize or who made them. The glass box with the brick from old Comiskey Park seems destined to remain one of those mysterious gifts.
The box contained no identification. And even the name Falco didn`t tell much. According to the National Park Service, a serviceman named Antonio Falco died in Vietnam on or after April 30, 1969. But Falco`s hometown was Canton, Mass., not Chicago.
Yet that anonymity does nothing to diminish the meaning of the glass box. It will remain etched in my mind forever.
On Wednesday, two days after Memorial Day, a friend and I will attend a Cub game at Wrigley Field. Going to the ballpark together means the world to us. For no matter how illusory, a day at Wrigley gives us the sense that amid the frenzy of everyday life, we can stop the clock long enough to enjoy a game that makes us feel again like children.
Only this time, the return to innocence will be tinged with sadness. When I walk into the Friendly Confines, I`ll be thinking about the glass box at the foot of the Wall and the original lyric from the Statler Brothers song “Don`t Wait on Me“:
“And when the lights go on at Wrigley Field, I`ll be comin` home to you.“
The lights came on. But this unknown soldier didn`t come home.