In recent years, veterans in Congress have established in an annual tradition before Memorial Day, heading down to the National Mall to the black granite walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

When the bipartisan group of lawmakers arrive, they carefully remove the flowers, flags and handwritten notes people leave next to the etched names of the more than 58,000 servicemembers who lost their lives. Then they wash the stone until it’s gleaming for Memorial Day.

“Anyone who’s visited the Vietnam wall knows how moving it is, but to actually be a part of cleaning it and ... getting it ready for Memorial Day — it’s a pretty special event,” Rep. Seth Moulton told Boston Public Radio on Friday. Moulton is part of the group that washes the memorial. He served as a Marine for four tours of duty in Iraq before representing Massachusetts’ 6th congressional district.

Moulton said he’s struck by the age of many of the names listed on the wall. Of soldiers killed, 61% were younger than 21, according to the Vietnam Veteran Project.

“You think about all the life that they missed,” Moulton said.

Moulton said there’s a “special connection” between veterans of the more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and veterans of Vietnam because those wars were unpopular with the American people.

“And yet ... we went so that no one had to go in our place. That’s what signing up is all about,” he said. “When you protest the war, when you burn your draft card, it’s not like there’s just an empty spot in a tank or a plane or on the ground or in a patrol — someone fills that spot, another American goes. And I think we all have to remember that on this Memorial Day weekend.”

Moulton said veteran colleagues are often his “first stop” when working across the political aisle because of this shared experience. A bill focused on national defense funding and servicemember treatment was moved out of a House committee this week.

“The things that will make serving in the military ... better and get the troops what they deserve,” said Moulton.

The $883.7 billion bill includes a 4.5% pay increase for all service members, according to reporting by The Hill. There are also investments in quality of life, like improving barracks and housing.

Seth Moulton
Rep. Seth Moulton served four tours in Iraq.
Alex Brandon AP