Photo courtesy Stephanie Hanson, daughter of Gary N. Young
When The Wall was built, there were 57,159 names. A few names have been added each year: those where lost records of wartime death were found later and names of men who died after the war from physical injuries as a result of the war. The US Department of Defense established the criteria of geographic boundaries and beginning and ending dates. Each of the branches of the Department of Defense made and continues to make the determinations of eligibility. We do not determine if a person's death qualifies to have his name on the Wall.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) raised the money to build the memorial from
donations of more than 275,000 private citizens and organizations.
There was a contest for the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. A jury
of eight prominent artists and architects considered 1,421 design
entries. The design submitted by Maya Ying Lin, a 21 year-old
architecture student at Yale University won the design competition.
Maya Lin was born in Ohio; her parents had fled the communist takeover of China in 1949. A
formal ground breaking ceremony for The Wall was held on March 26, 1982.
In November, 1984 The Wall became the property of the people of the USA.
Since that time, The Wall has been maintained by U.S. National Park
Service employees and is staffed by National Park Service
Park Rangers, National Park Service Park Security, and National Park Service "Yellow
The National Park Service funds ceremonies at The Wall several times
each year, in coordination with several different veteran
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial belongs to the people of the United States of America.
The proper name of the memorial is "Vietnam Veterans Memorial." It is purposely NOT a memorial to war.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall has frequently been described as "the most visited memorial in the country." Many report their first encounter with The Wall as an emotional experience. Various aspects of the design contribute to the emotion, whether visitors are consciously aware of the connection or not.
The Wall is both partly into the ground, signifying death and mourning, and above ground. The center of The Wall rises above the surrounding terrain as a symbol of life, hope, and resurrection. Although completely open on one side, visitors feel they are walking down, into The Wall.
The Wall was made from black granite from Bangalore, India. The granite is extremely hard and has a very fine grain, so the names carved into The Wall should remain for hundreds of years. The black surface gives a feeling of death and sadness, but is polished to a high finish, so The Wall becomes a "living" memorial by reflecting the sky, the environment, and visitors. The Wall absorbs sunlight during the day and radiates that energy as heat during the evening and night. Additional slabs of the same granite are in storage in the United States in case any of the panels of the Wall need to be replaced.
Like the war, itself, The Wall begins small, rises to a peak, and then tapers off small again.
The Wall consists of the East Wall and West Wall, two triangles each 246.75 feet long and 10.1 feet tall where they meet at the central apex. As seen from above, they meet at a 125 degree angle, with the West Wall pointing towards the Lincoln Memorial and the East Wall pointing to the Washington Monument. Each Wall consists of 72 panels: 70 with names and 2 very small, blank panels at each end.
The names are arranged by date of casualty, as a continuous flow of names with no demarcation of dates. The earliest casualties are named just to the right of where the two Walls meet, under the large date 1959, on line 1 of panel 1E (east). The names continue to line 2 of panel 1E, down to the bottom of panel 1E, then to the top of panel 2E. That pattern continues to the east end of the East Wall, where panel 70E has names of 4 men who died on May 24, 1968 and 1 man who died on May 25, 1968. May 25 continues at the far end of the West Wall, at panel W70. The names continue from there back to the center, where the last casualties are listed at the bottom of panel W1. The names of the last and first casualties are thereby near each other to form a closed circle, described as "a wound that is closed and healing." Within any given day, the names are arranged alphabetically.
The year "1975" is carved on the bottom of panel W1 because that was the year of the last American casualties, even though American imvolvement had ended in 1973. In compliance with the Paris Peace Accords, both US and North Vietnam military forces were supposed to withdraw from South Vietnam in March, 1973. US military forces withdrew as promised. The US was no longer involved in the war, although a few US Marines were left to guard the US Embassy in Saigon. In April, 1975, North Vietnam forces swept through the south. A US Navy ship involved with rescuing Vietnamese and American civilians came under heavy fire, killing and wounding several US Marines and sailors. Those killed are listed above the "1975."
When The Wall was built, it was thought the first American military casualties occurred in 1959. After The Wall was erected, two families brought forth proof that two American military advisors were killed earlier, one in 1956 and one in 1957. Their names were added to panel 1E but it was decided to not correct the date carved on the top of panel 1E, which would deface The Wall.
A small symbol is carved next to each name. A diamond indicates "killed, body recovered". A small percentage of names have a plus sign, indicating "Missing In Action" which has been officially renamed "killed: body not recovered". The plus sign was chosen because it could be changed to a diamond if the person's remains were found, or a circle could be carved around it if that person returned alive. Since The Wall was built, several hundred remains of men have been found and identified, so the symbols next to their names were changed to diamonds. There have not yet been any symbols changed to circles. In most cases, the date the person became missing was used to place his name with those who died on that date. Detailed information about all the persons listed as POWs or MIAs from the Vietnam War can be found on www.POWNetwork.org.
The names of 14 men who came home alive are on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. When the Wall was built, their military records were not clear whether they had died in the war or not. It was decided to add their names to err on the side of inclusion, rather than leaving their names off. Once it was confirmed they were alive, their names were removed from the directories and database used for looking up names. Their names were left on the Wall because any form of removing them would deface the Wall.
In 1984 a flagpole and a life-size sculpture named "The three fighting men" by Frederick Hart were added near the west end of The Wall.
In 1993, the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project dedicated the Vietnam Women's Memorial, a sculpture by Glenna Goodacre. It honors the eight military and fifty-six civilian American women who died in the war and some ten thousand American women who served in the war.
In 1984, a transportable scale model of the Wall named The Moving Wall was first put on display. John Devitt was a helicopter door gunner in Vietnam. After he attended the 1982 dedication of the Wall in Washington, he vowed to make a smaller version of the Wall that could travel the country to take the Wall directly to the cities and towns of those named upon it. Friends and relatives of the fallen who could not make the trip to Washington could now experience the Wall. John and his friends built The Moving Wall. Since 1984, two additional structures of The Moving Wall were added and have made more than 1000 visits all over the USA and Canada.
Since the names on the Wall are listed in the order of death, first-time
visitors to the Wall are frequently unable to find the name they
came to see. Shortly after the Wall was built, some relatives and friends of the fallen
decided to help visitors find names and began to spend their spare time
at the Wall with their own copies of the Directory of Names. They formed
the organization Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, "The Friends."
"The Friends" noted to the US National Park Service (NPS) that some of their activities would fit within the duties of National Park Service Volunteers and the NPS agreed. Many members of "The Friends" became NPS volunteers. Many more people have since answered the call to become NPS volunteers at the Wall. The NPS provides the volunteers with uniforms and supplies.
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