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 Memorial Wall is made up of three black granite walls 246 feet 9 inches (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." Visitors can use directories to locate specific names.
Beginning and Ending Timeline
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.
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.
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
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.