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Remembering Vietnam My War Story - Bill Nelson
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Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Facts and Figures
In 1977, Jan C. Scruggs, a Vietnam War veteran from Bowie, Md. and a student at American University, wrote an editorial for The Washington Post in which he called for a national monument to make amends for the indifference Vietnam veterans had been met with upon returning to the country. Together with other veterans, Scruggs started the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) in 1979.
On Memorial Day 1979, Scruggs began to raise funds to build a memorial for Vietnam veterans. He started by contributing $2,800 of his own money. Soon, as the drive became public, the pace of contributions picked up. Celebrity spokespeople, including Bob Hope, signed on to help raise funds. Altogether, $8.4 million was raised from individuals and corporate entities.
In 1980, Sens. Charles Mathias (R-Md.) and John Warner (R-Va.) co-sponsored legislation to provide federal land on the National Mall for the memorial. On July 1, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the legislation that called for the memorial to be built between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
A public competition was held for the memorial design, ultimately drawing 1,421 entries. After an initial round of judging, on May 6, 1981, Maya Lin’s design was chosen unanimously. Lin, 21 at the time, was an undergraduate architecture student at Yale University.
When the winning design was unveiled, it met with resistance from some veterans groups and other detractors. The design was so contentious that the memorial project was nearly derailed. Objections were overcome when a compromise was reached thanks to a recommendation by Gen. Michael Davison, USA (Ret.), who proposed adding a statue to the memorial site.
On March 26, 1982, less than three years after the project was launched and VVMF was incorporated, the groundbreaking for the Memorial took place. The first panel of The Wall, as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is called today, was unveiled on July 22, 1982.
VVMF commissioned sculptor Frederick E. Hart to create a heroic statue representing three foot soldiers. The statue, called The Three Servicemen, was installed near The Wall’s western ramp and was dedicated in 1984. A flagpole with the insignias of the five service branches at its base also was added nearby.
On Veterans Day 1984, President Ronald Reagan accepted the Memorial as a gift to the United States from VVMF. At that time, the Memorial was turned over to the National Park Service (NPS).
Nearly 10 years later, on Veterans Day 1993, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial was dedicated to honor all the women who served in Vietnam. This statue, designed by sculptor Glenna Goodacre, depicts three military nurses and a wounded serviceman.
In 2000, Congress authorized the placement of a plaque to honor Vietnam’s post-war casualties not eligible for inclusion on The Wall under Department of Defense (DOD) parameters. The In Memory Plaque was dedicated on November 10, 2004.
The Wall: Facts and Figures
The walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are made of black granite, quarried near Bangalore, India. All cutting and fabrication took place in Barre, Vt. On the Memorial’s walls, listed chronologically by date of casualty (not always the date of death), 58,272 names are inscribed. Each name was inscribed using a stencil generated from the computer tape of the official DOD Vietnam casualty list. The names are 0.53 inches high and are typeset in Optima font.
Of the 58,272 names on The Wall, eight are women and 16 are members of the clergy. Names are added to the Memorial each year in May just prior to Memorial Day. DOD has strict parameters for inclusion of a name on The Wall.
The Wall is built in the shape of a chevron. Both the east and west portions measure 246 feet and 8 inches and meet at an angle of 125.12 degrees. Each corner of the Memorial points exactly to the northeast corners of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
Today, The Wall is one of the most visited memorials on the National Mall, with around 4 million visitors annually. Visitors often leave remembrances at The Wall. These items – medals, photographs, helmets, jewelry -- are collected by NPS and stored in a facility in suburban Maryland. Remembrances left at the Memorial now number more than 150,000.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial’s reach is felt throughout the United States through several replicas (The Wall’s design is not copyrighted) that annually visit many cities and towns. VVMF’s traveling memorial, The Wall that Heals, encompasses a half-sized replica of The Wall and a comprehensive, educational traveling museum.
Additionally, VVMF's website provides the opportunity for family and friends to honor their loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War. The Virtual Wall, which is located on this site, features tens of thousands of remembrances, both text and photographs, of those honored on The Wall in Washington, D.C.