The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a national war memorial located in Washington, D.C. that honors members of the U.S. armed forces who served in the Vietnam War. The Memorial consists of three separate parts — the Three Soldiers statue, the Vietnam Women's Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, which is the most recognized part of the memorial. The memorial is sometimes popularly called the Vietnam Memorial, the Vietnam Wall or simply The Wall.

The main part of the memorial was completed in 1982 and is located in Constitution Gardens adjacent to the National Mall, just northeast of the Lincoln Memorial. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is maintained by the U.S. National Park Service, and receives around 3 million visitors each year. The Memorial Wall was designed by US architect Maya Lin.


The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall is a place of deep personal reflection for many visitors.


The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall is a place of deep personal reflection for many visitors.

  • April 30, 1975 - Fall of Saigon

  • 1978 - The Pentagon, instead of adding two unidentified bodies of Vietnam veterans to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, recommended that a display of medals be added behind the tomb with a plaque reading: "Let all know that the United States of America pays tribute to the members of the Armed Forces who answered their country's call." A Veterans Affairs subcommittee later changed the statement to read: "Let all know that the United States of America pays tribute to the members of the Armed Forces who served honorably in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam Era." Later, in 1978, Congress, prodded by the Vietnam-Era Caucus (composed of veteran Congressmen), discussed creating a "Vietnam Veterans Week" to honor the survivors of the war.

  • April 27, 1979 - The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc., was incorporated as a non-profit organization to establish a memorial to veterans of the Vietnam War. Much of the impetus behind the formation of the Fund came from a wounded Vietnam veteran, Jan Scruggs, who was inspired by the film The Deer Hunter. Eventually, $8.4 million was raised by private donations.

  • July 1, 1980 - Congress authorizes three acres in Constitution Gardens adjacent to the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial for the site. The memorial is to be managed by the National Park Service under its National Mall and Memorial Parks group. A design competition is announced.

  • December 29, 1980 - 2,573 register for design competition with a prize of $50,000.

  • March 31, 1981 - 1,421 designs submitted. The designs are displayed at an airport hangar at Andrews Air Force Base for the selection committee, in rows covering more than 35,000 square feet of floor space. Each entry was identified by number only, to preserve the anonymity of their authors. All entries were examined by each juror; the entries were narrowed down to 232, finally 39. The jury selected Entry Number 1026.

  • May 6, 1981 - a jury of architects and sculptors (Harry Weese, Richard Hunt, Garret Eckbo, Costantino Nivola, James Rosati, Grady Clar, Hideo Sasaki, Pietro Belluschi and Paul Spreiregen) unanimously selected a design by Maya Ying Lin, a 21 year old Yale University architecture student from Athens, Ohio, as the winner from 1,421 entries. Lin had originally designed the Memorial Wall as a student project. Controversially, the design lacked many of the elements traditionally present in war memorials, such as patriotic writings and heroic statues, and a flagstaff and figurative sculpture. Lin's Asian heritage was also a sensitive issue, and she was not even named in the memorial's 1982 dedication ceremony.

Various items left at the wall.

Various items left at the wall.


A satellite image of the Wall taken on April 26, 2002 by the United States Geological Survey. The dots visible along the length of the angled wall are visitors. For a satellite view of the Wall in relation to other monuments, see Constitution Gardens.
A satellite image of the Wall taken on April 26, 2002 by the United States Geological Survey. The dots visible along the length of the angled wall are visitors. For a satellite view of the Wall in relation to other monuments, see Constitution Gardens.

  Memorial Wall

The Memorial Wall is made up of three black granite walls 246 feetinches (75 meters) long, designed by Maya Ying Lin. The walls are sunk into the ground, with the top flush with the earth behind them. At the highest tip (the apex where they meet), they are 10.1 high (3 m) long, and they taper to a height of eight inches (20cm) at their extremities. Granite for the wall came from Bangalore, India and was deliberately chosen because of its reflective quality. All cutting and fabrication was done in Barre, Vermont. 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, the other in the direction of the Lincoln Memorial, meeting at an angle of 125° 12′. 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, read the names, make a pencil rubbing of a particular name, or pray. Some people leave sentimental items there for their deceased loved ones, which are stored at the Museum and Archeological Regional Storage Facility, with the exception of miniature American flags.

Inscribed on the wall with the Optima typeface are the names of servicemen who either died or remained classified as missing in action when the wall was 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 advisors 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. Symbolically, this is described as " wound that is closed and healing." Information about rank, unit, and decorations are not given. The wall listed 58,159 names when it was completed in 1993; as of 2005, when four names were added, there are 58,249 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 August 2005); if their death is confirmed, a diamond is superimposed over the cross. According to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund "[t]here 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."[1] Visitors can use directories to locate specific names.

Beginning and Ending Timeline

A Marine at Vietnam Memorial on 4th July 2002


A Marine at Vietnam Memorial on 4th July 2002

  • September 26, 1945 OSS officer Lt. Col. A. Peter Dewey working with the Viet Minh to repatriate captured Americans from the Japanese was shot by the Viet Minh at a roadblock in Saigon. He is not recognized at the memorial as American involvement officially begins in 1955.

  • November 1, 1955 - Dwight D. Eisenhower deploys Military Assistance Advisory Group to train the South Vietnam Army. This marks the official beginning American involvement in the war as recognized by the Memorial.

  • October 21, 1957 - Harry C. Cramer is killed during a training action. He is added to the wall after its dedication.

  • July 8, 1959 - Charles Ovnand and Dale R. Buis are killed by a sniper at Bien Hoa watching the movie The Tattered Dress, starring Jeanne Crain. They are listed 1 and 2 at the wall's dedication. Ovnand's name is misspelled on the memorial as "Ovnard."

  • April 30, 1975 - Fall of Saigon

  • May 15, 1975 - 18 soldiers are killed on the last day of a rescue operation known as the Mayagüez incident with troops from the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. They are the last soldiers listed on the timeline (Daniel A. Benedett, Lynn Blessing, Walter Boyd, Gregory S. Copenhaver, Andres Garcia, Bernard Gause, Jr., Gary L. Hall, Joseph N. Hargrove, James J. Jacques, Ashton N. Loney, Ronald J. Manning, Danny G. Marshall, James R. Maxwell, Richard W. Rivenburgh, Elwood E. Rumbaugh, Antonio Ramos Sandovall, Kelton R. Turner, Richard Vande Geer).

The Three Soldiers

Main article: The Three Soldiers
The Three Soldiers
The Three Soldiers

A short distance away from the wall is another part of the memorial, a bronze statue known as The Three Soldiers (or The Three Servicemen). After much controversy over Lin's winning design, the statue was placed to complement what seemed to be missing from the wall. The statue, unveiled in 1984, was designed by Frederick Hart, who placed third in the original competition. The soldiers are purposefully identifiable as White American, Black American, and Hispanic. The statue and the Wall appear to interact with each other, with the soldiers looking on in solemn tribute at the names of their dead comrades. It has been suggested that the sculpture was positioned especially for that effect.

  Women's Memorial

Main article: Vietnam Women's Memorial
The Vietnam Women's memorial
The Vietnam Women's memorial

Also part of the Memorial is the Vietnam Women's memorial. It is located a short distance south of The Wall, north of the Reflecting Pool. It was designed by Glenna Goodacre and dedicated on November 11, 1993, to the women of the United States who served in the Vietnam War, most of whom were nurses.

  In Memory Memorial Plaque

A memorial plaque, authorized by Pub.L. 106-214, was dedicated on November 10, 2004, at the northeast corner of the plaza surrounding the Three Soldiers statue to honor veterans who died after the war as a direct result of injuries suffered in Vietnam, but who fall outside Department of Defense guidelines. The plaque is a carved block of black granite, 3 feet by 2 feet, inscribed "In memory of the men and women who served in the Vietnam War and later died as a result of their service. We honor and remember their sacrifice."

Ruth Coder Fitzgerald, founder of The Vietnam War In Memory Memorial Plaque Project, worked for years and struggled against opposition to have the In Memory Memorial Plaque completed. The organization was disbanded, but their web site is maintained by the Vietnam War Project at Texas Tech University.

  Critical Response

In the documentry about Maya Lin (Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision), reaction to the chosen memorial design were intensely mixed. Racism drawn from the Pacific Theatre of WWII, Korean, and Vietnam War placed Maya Lin under scrutiny, even though she is Chinese. Other soldiers complained it looked too much like an ugly scar in the ground, reflecting the attitude and stigma the American government and public had towards the war and its veterans.

Still, many veterans found the memorial especially touching. One soldier in the video was quoted saying, "It's a quiet place where I can stand and remember my friends. And that's all I would like to do."

  The Moving Wall, also known as The Traveling Wall

The Moving Wall
The Moving Wall

Vietnam veteran John Devitt of Stockton, California, attended the 1982 dedication ceremonies of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Recognizing the healing nature of the Wall, he vowed to make a transportable version of the Wall, a "Traveling Wall" so persons who were not able to get to Washington, DC would be able to see and touch the names of friends or loved ones in their own home town.

Using personal finances, John founded Vietnam Combat Veterans, Ltd. With the help of friends the half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, named The Moving Wall, was built and first put on display to the public in Tyler, Texas, in 1984.

The Moving Wall visited hundreds of small towns and cities all over the USA, staying five or six days at each site. Local arrangements for each visit were made months in advance by veterans organizations and other civic groups. Thousands of people all over the US volunteered their time and money to help honor the fallen.

Desire for a hometown visit of The Moving Wall was so high the waiting list became long. In 1987 Vietnam Combat Veterans built a second structure of The Moving Wall. A third structure was added in 1989. In 2001 one of the structures was retired due to wear.

By 2006 there had been more than 1000 hometown visits of The Moving Wall. The count of people who visited The Moving Wall at each display ranges from 5,000 to more than 50,000; the total estimate of visitors is in the tens of millions.


  1. ^ Vietnam Memorial Fund - FAQs.
  • Vietnam Veterans Memorial, National Park Service leaflet, GPO:2004—304-377/00203

  • Wagner-Pacific, R., & Schwartz, B. (1991). The Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Commemorating a Difficult Past. The American Journal of Sociology, 97, 376-420.

  • The National Parks: Index 2001–2003. Washington: U.S. Department of the Interior.