The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall is a national memorial in Washington, D.C. It honors U.S. service members of the U.S. armed forces who fought in the Vietnam War, service members who died in service in Vietnam/South East Asia, and those service members who were unaccounted for (Missing In Action) during the War.
Its construction and related issues 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, which was completed in 1982, is in Constitution Gardens adjacent to the National Mall, just northeast of the Lincoln Memorial. The memorial is maintained by the U.S. National Park Service, and receives around 3 million visitors each year. The Memorial Wall was designed by American architect Maya Lin. The typesetting of the original 58,195 names on the wall was performed by Datalantic in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2007, it was ranked tenth on the “List of America’s Favorite Architecture” by the American
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Location Washington, D.C., United States
Coordinates 38°53′28″N 77°2′52″WCoordinates: 38°53′28″N 77°2′52″W
Area 2.00 acres (0.81 ha)
Established November 13, 1982
Visitors 3,799,968 (in 2006)
Governing body National Park Service
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Monument
Architect Maya Lin
NRHP Reference # 01000285
Added to NRHP November 13, 1982
April 30, 1975 – The Fall of Saigon.
April 27, 1979 – The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc. (VVMF), 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, with support from fellow Vietnam veterans such as retired Navy chaplain Arnold Resnicoff. Eventually, $8.4 million was raised by private donations.
July 1, 1980 – Congress authorizes 3 acres (12,000 m2) near the Lincoln Memorial for the site. The “temporary” Munitions Building, built for War Department offices during World War I and finally razed in 1970, ordered by President Richard Nixon, formerly occupied 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 30, 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 (3,300 m2) 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, then 39. Finally, the jury selected entry number 1026.
January 1982 – The Three Soldiers was added to the design as a result of controversy over Lin’s design.
March 11, 1982 – The design is formally approved.
March 26, 1982 – Ground is formally broken.
October 13, 1982 – The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts approves erection of a flagpole to be grouped with sculptures.
November 13, 1982 – Memorial dedication after a march to its site by thousands of Vietnam War veterans. As a National Memorial it was administratively listed on the National Register of Historic Places the same day.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall with Christmas ornaments
November 1984 – The Three Soldiers statue is dedicated.
November 11, 1993 – Vietnam Women’s Memorial is dedicated.
1994 – The Pentagon, instead of adding two unidentified bodies of Vietnam veterans to the Tomb of the Unknowns, 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 1998, Congress, prodded by the Vietnam-Era Caucus (composed of veteran Congressmen), discussed creating a “Vietnam Veterans Week” to honor the survivors of the war.
November 10, 2004 – Dedication of memorial plaque honoring veterans who died after the war as a direct result of injuries suffered in Vietnam, but who fall outside Department of Defense guidelines.
May 4, 2010 – Six names were added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial during a ceremony. The new names are veterans who died after the war as a direct result of injuries suffered in the combat zone.
October 12, 2012 – It was announced that a place of honor will be added by the Wall for post 9/11 service members.
The Memorial Wall, designed by Maya Lin, is made up of two gabbro walls 246 feet 9 inches (75.21 m) 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 (3.1 m) high, and they taper to a height of 8 inches (20 cm) 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 photoemulsion 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, 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.
One panel of ‘The Wall’, displaying some of the names of fallen U.S. service members from the Vietnam War.
Inscribed on the walls with the Optima typeface are the names of servicemen who were either confirmed to be KIA (Killed in Action) or remained classified as MIA (Missing in Action) 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. Symbolically, this is described as a “wound that is closed and healing.” Information about rank, unit, and decorations are not given. 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. 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.
Occasionally, visitors to the Wall will take a piece of paper and place it over a name on the wall and rub a pen or pencil over it. This is called “rubbing”.
Timeline for those listed on the wall
November 1, 1955 – Dwight D. Eisenhower deploys Military Assistance Advisory Group to train the South Vietnamese military units and secret police. However, the U.S. Department of Defense does not recognize such date since the men were supposedly only training the Vietnamese. The officially recognized date is the formation of the Military Assistance Command Viet-Nam, better known as MACV. This marks the official beginning of American involvement in the war as recognized by the memorial.
June 8, 1956 – The first official death in Vietnam is U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Richard B. Fitzgibbon, Jr. of Stoneham, MA who was murdered by another U.S. airman.
July 8, 1959 – Charles Ovnand and Dale R. Buis are killed by guerrillas at Bien Hoa while watching the film The Tattered Dress. They are listed 1 and 2 at the wall’s dedication. Ovnand’s name is spelled on the memorial as “Ovnard,” due to conflicting military records of his surname.
April 30, 1975 – Fall of Saigon. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs uses May 7, 1975 as the official end date for the Vietnam era as defined by 38 U.S.C. § 101.
May 15, 1975 – 18 U.S. servicemen (14 Marines, two Navy corpsmen, and two Air Force crewmen) 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 servicemen listed on the timeline.