Friday, May 17, 2013
"I deliberately did not read anything about the Vietnam War because I felt the politics of the war eclipsed what happened to the veterans. The politics were irrelevant to what this memorial was. " – Maya Lin
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc., a non-profit group, was established on April 27, 1979 by Jan Scruggs and a group of fellow Vietnam veterans. On July 1, 1980, President Carter signed legislation authorizing a site for a Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Constitution Gardens, slightly northeast of the Lincoln Memorial. Recognizing the divisive nature of the war, there were four very specific criteria for entrants in the design competition. Entries were judged on whether they were: reflective and contemplative in nature; harmonious with the surroundings; designed to contain the names of the dead and missing; and devoid of political statements. The winning designer was Maya Lin, a Yale undergraduate whose submission was a class project. The now-famous wall was dedicated on November 13, 1982.
Lin’s design was controversial not because of any political statements it made but because of how untraditional a war memorial it was. The memorial is made of two 246’ walls of polished black granite etched with the 58,261 names of the missing or dead. The wall is set into the earth so that as one walks along it, one gets the sensation of walking into a grave. Lin wanted the wall to appear to be a scar on the earth, evoking feelings of pain and death, but also, over time, of healing as grass fills in around it. One end of the wall points directly to the Lincoln Memorial and the other points directly to the Washington Monument, giving it a sense of historical perspective.
To appease critics who found the wall too untraditional, an American flag and a sculpture of “3 Servicemen” was added in 1984. The soldiers, designed by Frederic Hart, stand 150 feet away from the wall but each look directly at its vertex. A third piece, the Women’s Memorial, was added later, honoring the women who served in the war.
Despite the controversies surrounding the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, it has become one of the most emotional locations on the National Mall. Visitors often leave mementos from flowers and letters to service caps and boots. Any non-perishable items are removed and stored by the National Park Service. Some of the items are displayed in the Smithsonian Institution’s American History Museum.
Learn more about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
You Can Help
The National Mall is in a state of disrepair.
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Did you know??
The black granite used to build the wall comes from Bangalore, India, one of only three places in the world you can get that much granite in such large blocks.