I have visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial many times. As I go down the walkway
looking at the
names on the wall, I am always filled with mixed emotions. I see
familiar names on the wall; a childhood next door neighbor, a brother of one of my
best friends, guys from my hometown area. I also think about the way our returning
troops were treated during this time. Anti-war protestors greeted them with signs
and jeers. This was a terrible time in the history of our country.
As a veteran, I can say I am so excited to see how our troops are being honored today. Hometown "Welcome Homes" go a long way for the moral of our soldiers. Airlines are giving our troops in uniform priority treatment boarding the plane. A few weeks ago I was on a flight with a number of young soldiers. The plane captain made an announcement thanking the troops for their sacrifice and service. Passengers joined in with heartwarming applause. Amazing!
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a national memorial in Washington, D.C. It honors members of the U.S. armed forces who fought in the Vietnam War, service members who died in service in Vietnam/Southeast Asia, and those service members who were unaccounted for Missing In Action (MIA) during the War. The memorial is maintained by the U.S. National Park Service, and receives around 3 million visitors each year.
Its construction and related issues, like the war itself, have been the source of controversies, some of which have resulted in additions to the memorial complex. The memorial currently consists of three separate parts: the Three Soldiers statue, the Vietnam Women's Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, which is the best-known part of the memorial.
The main part of the memorial, completed in 1983, is in Constitution Gardens adjacent to the National Mall, just northeast of the Lincoln Memorial. The Memorial Wall, designed by American architect Maya Lin, has been described symbolically as a "wound that is closed and healing."
The Memorial Wall is made up of two gabbro walls 246 feet 9 inches long. The walls are sunk into the ground, with the earth behind them. At the highest tip (the apex where they meet), they are 10.1 feet high, and they taper to a height of eight inches at their extremities. Stone for the wall came from Bangalore, Karnataka, India, and was deliberately chosen because of its reflective quality. Stone cutting and fabrication was done in Barre, Vermont. Stones were then shipped to Memphis, Tennessee where the names were etched. The etching was completed using a photo emulsion and sandblasting process. The negatives used in the process are in storage at the Smithsonian Institution.
When a visitor looks upon the wall, his or her reflection can be seen simultaneously with the engraved names, which is meant to symbolically bring the past and present together. One wall points toward the Washington Monument, while the other in the direction of the Lincoln Memorial, meeting at an angle of 125 degrees. Each wall has 72 panels, 70 listing names (numbered 1E through 70E and 70W through 1W) and 2 very small blank panels at the extremities. There is a pathway along the base of the Wall, where visitors may walk.
Inscribed on the walls with the Optima typeface are the names of servicemen who were either confirmed to be Killed in Action (KIA) or remained classified as Missing in Action (MIA) when the walls were constructed in 1982. They are listed in chronological order, starting at the apex on panel 1E in 1959 (although it was later discovered that the first casualties were military advisers who were killed by artillery fire in 1957), moving day by day to the end of the eastern wall at panel 70E, which ends on May 25, 1968, starting again at panel 70W at the end of the western wall which completes the list for May 25, 1968, and returning to the apex at panel 1W in 1975.
The wall listed 58,191 names when it was completed in 1983; as of May 2011, there are 58,272 names, including 8 women. Approximately 1,200 of these are listed as missing (MIAs, POWs, and others), denoted with a cross; the confirmed dead are marked with a diamond. If the missing return alive, the cross is circumscribed by a circle (although this has never occurred as of March 2009); if their death is confirmed, a diamond is superimposed over the cross. According to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, "there is no definitive answer to exactly how many, but there could be as many as 38 names of personnel who survived, but through clerical errors, were added to the list of fatalities provided by the Department of Defense." Directories are located on nearby podiums so that visitors may locate specific names.
A short distance away from the wall is another Vietnam memorial, a bronze statue named The Three Soldiers (sometimes called The Three Servicemen). Negative reactions to Lin's design created a controversy; a compromise was reached by commissioning Frederick Hart (who had placed third in the original design competition) to produce a bronze figurative sculpture in the heroic tradition. Opponents of Lin's design had hoped to place this sculpture of three soldiers at the apex of the wall's two sides. Lin objected strenuously to this, arguing that this would make the soldiers the focal point of the memorial, and her wall a mere backdrop. A compromise was reached, and the sculpture was placed off to one side.
The statue, which was unveiled in 1984, depicts three soldiers, purposefully identifiable as White American, African American, and Hispanic American. In their final arrangement, the statue and the Wall appear to interact with each other, with the soldiers looking on in solemn tribute at the names of their fallen comrades. The distance between the two allows them to interact while minimizing the impact of the addition on Lin's design.
The Vietnam Women's Memorial, designed by Glenna Goodacre and dedicated on November 11, 1993, is a memorial dedicated to the women of the United States who served in the Vietnam War, most of whom were nurses. It serves as a reminder of the importance of women in the conflict. It depicts three uniformed women with a wounded soldier. The woman looking up is named Hope, the woman praying is named Faith, and the woman tending to a wounded soldier is named Charity. It is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and is located on National Mall in Washington DC, a short distance south of The Wall, north of the Reflecting Pool.