THE HEALING BEGINS
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc., a nonprofit charitable organization formed to establish the memorial, was the idea of Jan Scruggs, a former infantry corporal during the war. It was incorporated on April 27, 1979, by a group of Vietnam veterans in Washington, D.C. The founders wanted Vietnam veterans to have a tangible symbol of recognition from American society. They realized early on that whatever design would ultimately result, four basic criteria had to be met: 1. that it be reflective and contemplative in character, 2. that it harmonize with its surroundings, especially the neighboring national memorials, 3. that it contain the names of all who died or remain missing, and 4. that it make no political statement about the war. By separating the issue of those who served in Vietnam from that of U.S. policy in the war, the group hoped to begin the important process of national reconciliation.
To veterans and their loved ones, the healing process often involves leaving mementos at the wall.
NAMES BECOME THE MEMORIAL
Maya Ying Lin conceived her design as creating a park within a parka quiet protected place unto itself, yet harmonious with the site. To achieve this effect she chose polished black granite for the walls. Their mirrorlike surfaces reflect the surrounding trees, lawns, monuments, and the people looking for names. The memorial's walls point to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The 58,256 names are inscribed in chronological order of the date of casualty, showing the war as a series of individual human sacrifices and giving each name a special place in history. Lin said, "The names would become the memorial."
The names begin at the vertex of the walls below the date of the first casualty and continue to the end of the east wall. They resume at the tip of the west wall, ending at the vertex above the date of the last death. With the meeting of the beginning and ending, a major epoch in American history is denoted. Each name is preceded on the west wall or followed on the east wall by one of two symbols: a diamond or a cross. The diamond denotes that the individual's death was confirmed. The nearly 1,000 persons whose names are designated by the cross were either missing or prisoners at the end of the war and remain missing and unaccounted for. If a person returns alive, a circle, as a symbol of life, will be inscribed around the cross. In the event an individual's remains are returned or are otherwise accounted for, the diamond will be superimposed over the cross.
Some Facts About the Memorial
THE FACES OF HONOR
Sculptor Frederick Hart's goal was to create a moving evocation of the experience and service of the Vietnam veteran. He has described it: "They wear it on their uniform and carry the equipment of war; they are young. The contrast between the innocence of their youth and the weapons of war underscores the poignancy of their sacrifice. There is about them the physical contact and sense of unity that bespeaks the bonds of love and sacrifice that is the nature of men at war.... Their strength and their vulnerability are both evident." The flag flies from a 60-foot staff. The base contains emblems of the five services. The In Memory plaque, dedicated in 2004, is located within the northeast corner of the Three Servicemen Statue. The plaque honors the men and women who served in Vietnam and later died from causes related to the war; they are remembered for their sacrifice.
Dedicated on November 11, 1993, as part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Women's Memorial honors the women of the U.S. Armed Forces who took part in the war. The statue was sculpted by Glenna Goodacre and depicts three women coming to the aid of a fallen soldier. It recalls the courage and sacrifice of all women who served. Planted around the memorial are eight yellowwood treesa living tribute to the eight servicewomen killed in action while in Vietnam.
ESTABLISHING THE MEMORIAL
On July 1, 1980, Congress authorized a site in Constitution Gardens near the Lincoln Memorial for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, providing the prominent, park-like setting that the organizers had hoped to find. That fall it was announced that the memorial's design would be selected through a national competition open to any U.S. citizen 18 years of age or older.
The 1,421 design entries submitted were judged anonymously by a jury of eight internationally recognized artists and designers. On May 1, 1981, the jury presented its unanimous selection for first prize. The winning design was the work of Maya Ying Lin of Athens, Ohio, who was a 21-year-old student at Yale University. The following January it was determined that a flagstaff and figurative sculpture depicting fighting men in Vietnam would be added to the memorial site. Washington, D.C. sculptor Frederick Hart was selected to design the sculpture of the servicemen.
On March 11,1982, the memorial's design and plans received final approval, and ground was formally broken on March 26. Construction of the walls was completed in late October, and the memorial was dedicated November 13, 1982. The life-size sculpture was installed in the fall of 1984. On November 11 (Veterans Day) of that year. President Ronald Reagan accepted the completed memorial on behalf of the nation. The $7 million cost of establishing the memorial was raised entirely through contributions from corporations, foundations, unions, veterans' groups, civic organizations, and over 275,000 individual Americans.
The completed memorial has achieved all that Lin and Hart hoped it wouldand more. Rubbings are taken of the names by loved ones. Every day family members and friends leave mementos and tokens of remembrance at the memorial, making them as much of a legacy of the Vietnam years as the memorial itself.
Source: NPS Brochure (2007)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
A Place to Mourn: Why the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is Crucial to American Healing (Rebekah Hobbs, extract from Digital Literature Review, 1, 2014, ©Ball State University)
Finishing Unfinished Business: A Study of Reactions to the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial (Susan H. Labott and Randall B. Martin, April 1987)
Scope of Collection Statement, Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Janet Folkerts, 2021)
Handbooks ◆ Books
Last Updated: 09-Oct-2021