The Wall honors those who died

While it has been controversial at times, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a place that has become a must see when visiting Washington, D.C.
Often times called the “Vietnam Veterans Wall,” it was completed in 1982 and is in Constitution Gardens adjacent to the National Mall, just northeast of the Lincoln Memorial.
Designed by Maya Lin, who was just 21 and a student in architecture at Yale University at the time, the wall is made of two gabbro sections, 246 feet and nine inches long. The walls are sunk into the ground with the earth behind them. At the highest tip they are 10 feet and they taper to about eight inches at their extremities. The wall is made of stone from Bangalore, Karnataka, India, because of its reflective quality. The names were etched in Memphis in an Optima typeface.
The wall originally had 58,191 names on it of those killed or missing in action in Vietnam. As of 2011, there were 58,272 names on the wall, including 1,200 of those who are listed as missing in action. Those names are denoted with a cross and the confirmed dead are noted with a diamond.
According to the Department of the Interior, the wall came about after a fund was established in 1979 to construct a memorial to those who fought in Vietnam. Much of the impetus for it came from Jan Scruggs, who was inspired by the film, The Deer Hunter. Eventually $8.4 million was raised by private donations. In July 1980, Congress authorized three acres and said the memorial would be managed by the National Parks Service.
A contest was announced and 2,573 people registered for the design competition that had a prize of $50,000. A jury of eight architects and sculptors unanimously selected Maya Ying Lin’s design. The design was controversial and among early financial supporters who withdrew support after the selection was H. Ross Perot. James Watt, Secretary of the Interior, initially refused to issue a building permit for the memorial.
But the memorial was built and as a part of the acknowledgement of Vietnam, additional monuments were built. The Three Soldiers statute and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial have been placed nearby.
The Three Soldiers memorial, a tribute by Frederick Hart unveiled in 1984, was a compromise to the controversy surrounding Lin’s design. It is a bronze sculpture depicting three soldiers, purposely identifiable as a white American, an African American and a Hispanic American. As they stand, they appear to be interacting with each other and looking solemnly at The Wall.
The Women’s Memorial design by Glenna Goodacre showed a standing figure of a nurse holding a Vietnamese baby. But that was deemed a political statement and she was asked to rework the statue. She came up with a figure of a kneeling woman holding an empty helmut.
The Vietnam Veteran Memorial has also been honored with what is called the Moving Wall. Vietnam veteran John Devitt of Stockton, Calif., created a replica of the wall after he was at the dedication of the original wall. He wanted to make the wall available to more people so he used his own personal finances and created the Moving Wall. He had the help of the Vietnam Veterans Combat Veterans, a group he founded.
It is a 250-foot wall that is three-fifths the size of the real wall and began traveling in 1996 in a 53-foot tractor-trailer. By 2006, there had been more than 1,000 hometown visits by the Moving Wall. Sometimes the wall is escorted by state troopers and the Patriot Guard Riders. Local organizations that sponsor the Moving Wall visits pay $5,000 to host the wall. It is often referred to as “The Wall that Heals.”
The Vietnam Veterans memorials in D.C. have more than 3 million visitors each year, according to the National Parks Service. Visitors often leave sentimental items at the memorial. Those items are collected by the parks service and are transferred to the resource center where each item is catalogued and stored, except perishable things such as live flowers. Some items have been placed on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History from time to time.
The largest item left at the wall was a sliding glass storm door with a full-sized replica “tiger cage” that was painted with a scene of Vietnam and the names of U.S. POWs and MIAs.
Some incidents of vandalism have occurred at the wall including in 1988 when a swastika and scratches were etched in the wall. That was repaired soon after. The directory of the wall, which guides visitors who are looking for specific names, was once burned, but it was replaced. And an oily substance was poured on panels and paving stones. The removal process took several weeks.