Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Visitors at the wall in January 2005
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Location Washington, D.C., United States
Coordinates 38°53′28″N77°2′52″W / 38.89111°N 77.04778°W / 38.89111; -77.04778 Coordinates: 38°53′28″N77°2′52″W / 38.89111°N 77.04778°W / 38.89111; -77.04778
Area2 acres (0.81 ha)
EstablishedNovember 13, 1982
Visitors3,799,968(in 2006)
Governing body National Park Service
Website Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Architect Maya Lin
NRHP reference # 01000285 [1]
Added to NRHPNovember 13, 1982

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a 2-acre (8,093.71 m²) U.S. national memorial in Washington, D.C. It honors 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 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. This is reflected in the fact that the Vietnam memorial is now made up of three parts: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, completed first and the best-known part of the memorial; The Three Soldiers ; and the Vietnam Women's Memorial.

The main part of the memorial, the wall of names, 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 National Park Service, and receives around 3 million visitors each year. The Memorial Wall was designed by American architect Maya Lin. In 2007, it was ranked tenth on the "List of America's Favorite Architecture" by the American Institute of Architects. As a National Memorial, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


An aerial photograph 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. Vietnam veterans wall satellite image.jpg
An aerial photograph 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 two 246-foot-9-inch (75.21 m) long black granite walls, polished to a high finish, and etched with the names of the servicemen being honored in 140 panels of horizontal rows with regular typeface and spacing. [2] [3] The walls are sunken 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 (200 mm) at their extremities. Symbolically, this is described as a "wound that is closed and healing" and exemplifies the Land art movement of the 1960s which produced sculptures that sought to reconnect with the natural environment. [4] The stone for the 144 panels was quarried in Bangalore, India.

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 two very small blank panels at the extremities. There is a pathway along the base of the Wall where visitors may walk.

The wall originally listed 57,939 names when it was dedicated in 1982; [5] however other names have since been added and as of May 2018 there were 58,320 names, including eight women. The number of names on the wall is different than the official number of U.S. Vietnam War deaths, which is 58,220 as of May 2018. [6] The names inscribed are not a complete list of those who are eligible for inclusion as some names were omitted at the request of families. [7]

Directories containing all of the names are located on nearby podiums at both ends of the monument where visitors may locate specific names.

The memorial has had some unforeseen maintenance issues. In 1984, cracks were detected in the granite and, as a result, two of the panels were temporarily removed in 1986 for study. More cracks were later discovered in 2010. There are a number of hypotheses about the cause of the cracks, the most common being due to thermal cycling. In 1990, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund purchased several blank panels to use in case any were ever damaged; these were placed into storage at Quantico Marine Base. [8] [9] Two of the blank panels were shattered by the 2011 Virginia earthquake. [10]


One panel of The Wall, displaying some of the names of fallen U.S. service members from the Vietnam War. Names of Vietnam Veterans.jpg
One panel of The Wall, displaying some of the names of fallen U.S. service members from the Vietnam War.

Inscribed in the memorial are the names of service members classified as "declared dead"; as the memorial contains names of individuals who had died due to circumstances other than killed in action, including murder, vehicle accidents, drowning, heart attack, animal attack, snake bites and others. [11] Also included are the names of those whose status is unknown, which typically means "missing in action" (MIA). The names are inscribed in Optima typeface, designed by Hermann Zapf. [4] Information about the rank, unit, and decorations are not given.

Those who are declared dead are denoted by a diamond, and those who are status unknown are denoted with a cross. When the death of one who was previously missing is confirmed, a diamond is superimposed over the cross. If the missing were to return alive, which has never occurred to date, the cross is to be circumscribed by a circle.

The earliest date of eligibility for a name to be included on the memorial is November 1, 1955, which corresponds to President Eisenhower deploying the Military Assistance Advisory Group to train the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. The last date of eligibility is May 15, 1975, which corresponds to the final day of the Mayaguez incident. [12] There are circumstances that allow for a name to be added to the memorial, but the death must be directly attributed to a wound received within the combat zone while on active duty. In such cases, the determination is made by the Department of Defense. [5] In these cases, the name is added according to the date of injury—not the date of death. The names are listed in chronological order, starting at the apex on panel 1E in July 8, 1959, moving day by day to the end of the eastern wall at panel 70E, which ended 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. There are some deaths that predate July 8, 1959, including the death of Richard B. Fitzgibbon Jr. in 1956.

The names of 32 men were erroneously included in the memorial, and while those names remain on the wall, they have been removed from the databases and printed directories. The extra names resulted from a deliberate decision to err on the side of inclusiveness, with 38 questionable names being included. One person, whose name was added as late as 1992, had gone AWOL immediately upon his return to the United States after his second completed tour of duty. His survival only came to the attention of government authorities in 1996. These survivor names could be removed if the panel their name is on is replaced in the future. [13] [14] [15] [16]

The Three Servicemen

The Three Soldiers by Frederick Hart Vietnam War Memorial in DC.jpg
The Three Soldiers by Frederick Hart
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Detail of The Three Soldiers

A short distance away from the wall is another Vietnam memorial, a bronze statue named The Three Servicemen (sometimes called The Three Soldiers). The statue depicts three soldiers, purposefully identifiable as European American, African American, and Hispanic American. In their final arrangement, the statue and the Wall appear to interact with each other, with the soldiers looking on in solemn tribute at the names of their fallen comrades. The distance between the two allows them to interact while minimizing the effect of the addition on Lin's design.

Women's Memorial

[ citation needed ]

The Vietnam Women's Memorial is a memorial dedicated to the women of the United States who served in the Vietnam War, most of whom were nurses. It serves as a reminder of the importance of women in the conflict. It depicts three uniformed women with a wounded soldier. It is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and is located on National Mall in Washington, D.C., a short distance south of The Wall, north of the Reflecting Pool.

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 by 2 feet (0.91 by 0.61 m), 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, the 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. [17] [18]


Visitors to the memorial may take a piece of paper and place it over a name on the wall and rub a wax crayon or graphite pencil over it as a memento of their loved ones [19] . This is called rubbing [20] .

Visitors to the memorial began leaving sentimental items at the memorial at its opening. One story claims this practice began during construction when a Vietnam veteran threw the Purple Heart his brother received posthumously into the concrete of the memorial's foundation. Several thousand items are left at the memorial each year. The largest item left at the memorial was a sliding glass storm door with a full-size replica "tiger cage". The door was painted with a scene from Vietnam and the names of U.S. POWs and MIAs from the conflict. [21]


The Main Navy and Munitions Building site, with the Munitions buildings behind the Navy building Main Navy Building and Munitions Building on the Washington National Mall, 1918.jpg
The Main Navy and Munitions Building site, with the Munitions buildings behind the Navy building

On April 27, 1979, four years after the Fall of Saigon, 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 West Point and Harvard Business School graduate John P. Wheeler III. [4] Eventually, $8.4  million was raised by private donations. On July 1, 1980, a site covering two acres next to the Lincoln Memorial was chosen and authorized by Congress [4] where the World War I Munitions Building previously stood. Congress announced that the winner of a design competition would design the park. By the end of the year 2,573 registered for the design competition with a prize of $20,000. On March 30, 1981, 1,421 designs were submitted. The designs were 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, designed by Maya Lin.

Opposition to design and compromise

The selected design was very controversial, in particular, its unconventional design, its black color and its lack of ornamentation. [22] Some public officials voiced their displeasure, calling the wall "a black gash of shame." [23] Two prominent early supporters of the project, H. Ross Perot and James Webb, withdrew their support once they saw the design. Said Webb, "I never in my wildest dreams imagined such a nihilistic slab of stone." [24] James Watt, secretary of the interior under President Ronald Reagan, initially refused to issue a building permit for the memorial due to the public outcry about the design. [25] Since its early years, criticism of the Memorial's design faded. In the words of Scruggs, "It has become something of a shrine." [23]

Negative reactions to Maya Lin's design created a controversy; a compromise was reached by commissioning Frederick Hart (who had placed third in the original design competition) to produce a bronze figurative sculpture in the heroic tradition. Opponents of Lin's design had hoped to place this sculpture of three soldiers at the apex of the wall's two sides. Lin objected strenuously to this, arguing that this would make the soldiers the focal point of the memorial, and her wall a mere backdrop. A compromise was reached, and the sculpture was placed off to one side to minimize the impact of the addition on Lin's design. On October 13, 1982, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts approved the erection of a flagpole to be grouped with sculptures.

Building the memorial

On March 11, 1982, the revised design was formally approved, and on March 26, 1982, the ground was formally broken. Stone for the wall came from Bangalore, Karnataka, India that was chosen because of its reflective quality. [4] Also, there was opposition to Swedish and Canadian stone as those countries were destinations for draft evaders. Stone cutting and fabrication were done in Barre, Vermont. The typesetting of the original 57,939 names on the wall was performed by Datalantic in Atlanta, Georgia. 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.

The memorial was dedicated on November 13, 1982 as part of a five-day ceremony that began on November 10, 1982, presided over Ronald Reagan, which involved a procession of tens of thousands of Vietnam War veterans. [4] About two years later the Three Soldiers statue was dedicated.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall with Christmas ornaments US flag reflexion on Vietnam Veterans Memorial 12 2011 000124.JPG
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall with Christmas ornaments

Timeline for those listed on the wall

A Marine at Vietnam Memorial on July 4, 2002 Vietnam-memorial-soldier.jpg
A Marine at Vietnam Memorial on July 4, 2002
  • November 1, 1955 Dwight D. Eisenhower deployed the Military Assistance Advisory Group, referred to now as MAAG, to train the South Vietnamese military units and secret police. However, the U.S. Department of Defense does not recognize this date since the men were supposedly training only the Vietnamese, so the officially recognized date is the formation of the Military Assistance Command Viet Nam, better known as MACV. This marked the official beginning of American involvement in the war as recognized by the memorial.
  • June 8, 1956 – The first official death in Vietnam was Technical Sergeant Richard Bernard Fitzgibbon Jr., United States Air Force, of Stoneham, Massachusetts, who was murdered by another U.S.A.F. airman.
  • October 21, 1957  - Capt. Harry Griffith Cramer, Jr., a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, was killed near Nha Trang, Vietnam. He served in Korea, where he was injured and awarded the Purple Heart, as well as in Vietnam. He was the first US Army soldier to be killed in the line of duty in the Vietnam War. A street at Fort Lewis, Washington, is named in his honor. He is buried at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York.
  • July 8, 1959 Chester M. Ovnand and Dale R. Buis were killed by guerrillas at Bien Hoa while watching the film The Tattered Dress . They are listed Nos. 1 and 2 at the wall's dedication. Ovnand's name is spelled on the memorial as "Oxnard," 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 War 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.

Since 1982, over 400 names have been added to the memorial, but not necessarily in chronological order. Some were men who died in Vietnam but were left off the list due to clerical errors. Others died after 1982, and their deaths were determined by the Department of Defense to be the direct result of their Vietnam service. For those who died during the war, their name is placed in a position that relates to their date of death. For those who died after the war, their name is placed in a position that relates to the date of their injury. Because space is usually not available in the exact right place, names are placed as close to their correct chronological position as possible, but usually not in the exact spot. The order could be corrected as panels are replaced. [26]

Furthermore, over 100 names have been identified as misspelled. In some cases, the correction could be done in place. In others, the name had to be chiseled again elsewhere, moving them out of chronological order. Others have remained in place, with the misspelling, at the request of their family. [27]

Addition of the Women's Memorial

The Women's Memorial was designed by Glenna Goodacre for the women of the United States who served in the Vietnam War. Before Goodacre's design was selected, two design entries had been awarded as co-finalists - one a statue and the other a setting - however, the two designs were unable to be reconciled. [28] [29] Glenna Goodacre's entry received an honorable mention in the contest and she was asked to submit a modified maquette (design model). Goodacre's original design for the Women's Memorial statue included a standing figure of a nurse holding a Vietnamese baby, which although not intended as such, was deemed a political statement, and it was asked that this be removed. She replaced them with a figure of a kneeling woman holding an empty helmet.[ citation needed ] On November 11, 1993, the Vietnam Women's Memorial was dedicated. There is a smaller replica of that memorial at Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park in Angel Fire, New Mexico.

Memorial plaque

On November 10, 2000, a memorial plaque, authorized by Pub.L.   106–214, honoring veterans who died after the war as a direct result of injuries suffered in Vietnam, but who fall outside Department of Defense guidelines was dedicated. Ruth Coder Fitzgerald, the 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 [30] is maintained by the Vietnam War Project at Texas Tech University. [18]

Education center

In 2003, after some years of lobbying, the National Park Service and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund won permission from Congress to build The Education Center at The Wall. A 37,000-square-foot (3,400 m2) two-story museum, located below ground just west of the Maya Lin-designed memorial, was proposed to display the history of the Vietnam War and the multiple design competitions and artworks which make up the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Women's Memorial, and the Memorial Plaque. [31] The center would have also provided biographical details on and photographs of many of the 58,000 names listed on the Wall as well as the more than 6,600 servicemembers killed since 2001 fighting the War on Terror. [32] The $115-million museum would be jointly operated by the Park Service and the Fund. [31] A ceremonial groundbreaking for the project occurred in November 2012, [32] but insufficient fundraising led the Fund to cancel construction of the center in September 2018 and instead focus on digital education and outreach. [33] [34] [35]

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection

Various items left at "The Wall". Vietnam Veterans Memorial.jpg
Various items left at "The Wall".
Flags and flowers USA-Vietnam Veterans Memorial0.JPG
Flags and flowers

Items left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are collected by National Park Service employees and transferred to the NPS Museum Resource Center, which catalogs and stores all items except perishable organic matter (such as fresh flowers) and unaltered U.S. flags. The flags are redistributed through various channels. [36]

From 1992 to 2003, selected items from the collection were placed on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History as "Personal Legacy: The Healing of a Nation" including the Medal of Honor of Charles Liteky, who renounced it in 1986 by placing the medal at the memorial in an envelope addressed to then-president Ronald Reagan.

Inspired works

Traveling replicas

The Moving Wall at Mount Trashmore Park in Virginia US Navy 061117-N-5307M-113 John Nugent, Vietnam veteran, plays the bagpipes as a part of the opening ceremony at the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall at Mt. Trashmore Park.jpg
The Moving Wall at Mount Trashmore Park in Virginia

There are several transportable replicas of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial created so those who are not able to travel to Washington, D.C., would be able to simulate an experience of visiting the Wall.

"The Wall That Heals" at the LBJ Presidential Library in 2016 DIG13866-004.jpg
"The Wall That Heals" at the LBJ Presidential Library in 2016

Fixed replicas

Located at 200 S. 9th Ave in Pensacola, Florida, the first permanent replica of the National Vietnam Memorial was unveiled on October 24, 1992. Now known as "Wall South," the half-size replica bears the names of all Americans killed or missing in Southeast Asia and is updated each Mother's Day. It is the centerpiece of Veterans Memorial Park Pensacola, [40] a five-and-one-half acre site overlooking Pensacola Bay, which also includes a World War I Memorial, a World War II Memorial, a Korean War Memorial, a Revolutionary War Memorial and a running series of plaques to honor local casualties from the Global War on Terror. [41] There is also a Purple Heart Memorial, a Marine Corps Aviation Bell Tower and a monument to the submarine lifeguards who rescued Navy pilots in World War II. A Global War on Terror Memorial is planned to be completed in 2017 and will include an artifact from the World Trade Center as a component of the sculpture. [42]

Located in Fox Park in Wildwood, New Jersey, The Wildwoods Vietnam Memorial Wall was unveiled and dedicated on May 29, 2010. The memorial wall is an almost half-size granite replica of the National Vietnam Memorial, and the only permanent memorial north of the nation's capital. [43]

Located 401 East Ninth Street in Winfield, Kansas. Plans for the Vietnam War Memorial in Winfield began in 1987 when friends who had gathered for a class reunion wanted to find a way to honor their fallen classmates. The project quickly grew from honoring only Cowley County servicemen to representing all 777 servicemen and nurses from Kansas who lost their lives or are missing in action from the Vietnam War. [44]

Located at Freedom Park in South Sioux City, Nebraska exists a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall that duplicates the original design. Dedicated in 2014, the 250 foot wall is constructed with black granite mined from the same quarry in India as the original. [45]

Located in Layton, Utah, the Layton Vietnam Memorial Wall at 437 N Wasatch Dr, Layton, UT 84041, contains the names of all 58,000 Americans who died in the war. According to Utah Vietnam Veterans of America, the wall is 80 percent of the original size of the memorial in Washington, D.C., and it is the only replica of its size west of the Mississippi. The memorial was officially opened and dedicated on July 14, 2018.

Located in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, opened in 2018. This Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall is 360-feet long, an 80 percent scale of the one in Washington D.C.

There is a full sized replica located in Perryville, Missouri.

Located in Augusta, Georgia, opened in 2019, the Augusta-CSRA Vietnam War Veterans Memorial is not a replica but follows the principles set forth by the national monument of honoring those fallen in Vietnam with inscriptions of the names, 169 total, who made the supreme sacrifice in Vietnam. [46]

As a memorial genre

The first US memorial to an ongoing war, the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial in Irvine, California, is modeled on the Vietnam Veterans memorial in that it includes a chronological list of the dead engraved in dark granite. As the memorialized wars (in Iraq and Afghanistan) have not concluded, the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial will be updated yearly. It has space for about 8000 names, of which 5,714 were engraved as of the Dedication of the Memorial on November 14, 2010. [47] [48]


There have been hundreds of incidents of vandalism at the memorial wall. Some of the most notable cases are

The Three Soldiers and Vietnam Veterans Memorial DC 12 2011 000129.JPG
Panorama of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and The Three Soldiers statue

See also

Related Research Articles

Maya Lin American architect and artist

Maya Ying Lin is an American designer, architect, and artist who works in sculpture and land art. She achieved national recognition at the age of 21 while still an undergraduate at Yale University, when her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. was chosen in a national competition. It is considered one of the most influential memorials of the post-World War II period.

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Works cited

Further reading