Vietnam Veterans War Memorial

Nestled in a peaceful grove of trees among other attractions in DC on the National Mall, the intense and solemn Vietnam Veteran War Memorial finally opened in 1982. The dramatic Maya Lin Vietnam memorial was conceived through a competition, which was funded via The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc., an organization initiated as a non-profit charity. This was to fulfill the vision of Jan Scruggs, who had served in Vietnam as an infantry corporal. A physical statement of respect and acknowledgement from the American people honor the leaders of this effort wanted veterans of Vietnam. Ultimately, they sought to draw a distinction between those who served in Vietnam and the unpopular U.S. policy that sent them there.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Vietnam Veterans Memorial

By day or night, this Vietnam Veteran War Memorial remains one of the most popular and powerful attractions in DC. Survivors of the war and loved ones of the deceased often come here as a sort of pilgrimage of homage: they make rubbings from the names of their fallen, and they meet and reminisce with other veterans and their families.

Veterans Day Memorial
Veterans Day Memorial

Vietnam veteran memorial architect Maya Lin's famous design for this moving tribute was chosen in a national competition, which kicked off a process of American cultural reconciliation. Her memorial comprises two black granite walls angled into a "V" containing over 58,000 names of soldiers who died or went missing during the nation"s longest war. Heightening the poignancy of the Maya Lin Vietnam memorial are two statues. The first one, depicting three servicemen, was completed in 1984, two years after the unveiling of the memorial. The other sculpture, added significantly later in 1993, portrays three servicewomen tending a wounded soldier.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

Entering the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, visitors are greeted by the American flag and an accompanying statue of three service men, sculpted by Frederick Hart to create a moving evocation of the experience and service of the Vietnam veteran. As Hart describes it, "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." The flag flies from a sixty-foot staff. The base contains the emblems of the five services. Together they form an entrance plaza for The Wall.

Vietnam Veterans War Memorial
Vietnam Veterans War Memorial

Vietnam Veteran Memorial architect Maya Lin conceived her design for The Wall as a park within a park, a quiet, protected place harmonious with the tranquil setting in which it was placed. The solid, somber black granite walls have a reflective sheen, which mirrors the area's woods, grass expanses, memorials, and the faces of people seeking veteran names. The memorial points to the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. The 58,209 names are inscribed in chronological order of death, showing the war as a collection of individual human sacrifices, and honoring each person with a unique place in American history.

Not until recently did the Vietnam Veterans Memorial pay tribute to the women who served. The Vietnam Women's Memorial, which opened in 1993, pays tribute to the military women who participated in the fighting. Sculptor Grenna Goodacre portrays three women helping a wounded serviceman. It brings to mind and honors the bravery and dedication of all the women who made sacrifices for this war.

Planted around the memorial are eight yellowwood trees - a living tribute to the eight servicewomen killed in action while in Vietnam. Just as this memorial evolved organically, so does its place in history as women become more active in war service.

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