The Vietnam Memorial: A Wall Of Memory

The Vietnam War was controversial and so was the Vietman memorial.

Walking down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial you can see people moving to your right; groups drifting in and out of sight among the trees. As you approach, your eyesight is suddenly jarred by the black granite wall - ripping its way along the hillside and staggering upon first seeing it.

The Vietnam Memorial Wall was first authorized by Congress in 1980 as a result of campaigning by many veterans and their support groups for some sort of recognition of the sacrifices that had been made for their country. Even though it had been a controversial war, they felt that their losses had never been recognized and acknowledged by the American public - as other conflicts had been.

In Constitution Gardens near the Lincoln Memorial two acres were put aside for the location of this monument; making it the most costly in land space. In October The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (who had petitioned long and hard for the memorial) announced a national design competition open to any U.S. citizen over 18 years of age; making it the first competition of its kind in the world. Over two thousand entries were submitted, swamping the judges and ranging from abstract artistic endeavors to the usual war statues strategically placed and inscribed.

The winner, chosen by committee, was Maya Ying Lin of Yale University. Her image of a black, stark wall scarring the side of the small hill was impressive to some, controversial to others. The debate went on for years until it was decided that in addition to the Wall a traditional sculpture would be added, Frederick Hart's Statue of the Three Servicemen.

The Wall was finally built in 1982; the Statue of the Three Servicemen added in 1984. In 1993, the Vietnam Women's Memorial by sculptor Glenna Goodacre was added to represent the work of the women Vietnam veterans. A bronze statue depicts three women, one of whom is caring for a wounded soldier. Planted around the statue's plaza are eight trees, one for each of the women who died in Vietnam.

Each half of the wall is 246.75 feet long, combined length of 493.50 feet. Each segment is made of 70 panels; inscribed with the names of all missing and deceased men starting at the beginning of the war on the first panel and continuing until the last one. Missing In Action are indicated with a cross beside their name; to be amended to a circle around the cross if they are identified eventually. At the intersection of the two halves the highest point is 10.1 feet high; at each end they dwindle down to only eight inches in height.

There are over 58,000 names inscribed on the black granite, invoking emotions from all who visit it. Park Rangers are available to help obtain rubbings of particular names and also provide assistance to locate a loved one's name on the wall. They also pick up all the gifts and flowers left behind by visitors, placing them in safekeeping.

The Vietnam Memorial Wall is the most visited memorial in Washington and easily one of the most controversial. From its inception to the controversial choice of design to the addition of a traditional sculpture and a final monument to the women who also served, it has also been the most fluid, accepting change and making itself a more powerful memorial because of it.

© High Speed Ventures 2011