Essential Architecture- Washington D.C.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial


Maya Lin with Cooper-Lecky Partnership


Washington, DC









A Vietnam Veteran beside the wall (Photo: Patrick André Perron)Vietnam Veterans Memorial
IUCN Category V (Protected Landscape/Seascape)

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a national war memorial located in Washington, D.C., that honors members of the U.S. armed forces who had died in service or are unaccounted for during the Vietnam War.

Its construction and related issues have been the source of numerous 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 most recognized part of the memorial.

The main part of the memorial was completed in 1982 and is located in Constitution Gardens adjacent to the National Mall, just northeast of the Lincoln Memorial. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is maintained by the U.S. National Park Service, and receives around 3 million visitors each year. The Memorial Wall was designed by U.S. architect Maya Lin. The typesetting was performed by Datalantic in Atlanta, Ga.

April 30, 1975 - 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. Eventually, $8.4 million was raised by private donations.
July 1, 1980 - Congress authorizes three acres near the Lincoln Memorial for 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.

Various items left at the wall.

March 31, 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 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, finally 39. The jury selected Entry Number 1026.
May 6, 1981 - a jury of architects and sculptors (Harry Weese, Richard Hunt, Garret Eckbo, Costantino Nivola, James Rosati, Grady Clay, Hideo Sasaki, Pietro Belluschi and Paul Spreiregen) unanimously selected a design by Maya Ying Lin, a 21 year old Yale University architecture student from Athens, Ohio, as the winner from 1,421 entries. Lin had originally designed the Memorial Wall as a student project. Controversially, the design lacked many of the elements traditionally present in war memorials, such as patriotic writings and heroic statues, and a flagstaff and figurative sculpture. Lin's Asian heritage was also a sensitive issue, and she was not even named in the memorial's 1982 dedication ceremony.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall is a place of deep personal reflection for many visitors.

January 1982 - The Three Soldiers was added to the design.

March 11, 1982 - The design was formally approved.
March 26, 1982 - Ground was formally broken.
October 13, 1982 - 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.
November 1984 - The Three Soldiers statue dedicated.
November 11, 1993 - Vietnam Women's Memorial was 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 1978, 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.


A satellite image 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.

The Memorial Wall, designed by Maya Ying Lin, is made up of two black granite walls 246 feet 9 inches (75 meters) 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 m) high, and they taper to a height of eight inches (20cm) at their extremities. Granite for the wall came from Bangalore, India and was deliberately chosen because of its reflective quality. All cutting and fabrication was done in Barre, Vermont. 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, read the names, make a pencil rubbing of a particular name, or pray. Some people leave sentimental items there for their deceased loved ones, and the items are stored at the Museum and Archeological Regional Storage Facility, with the exception of miniature American flags.

Inscribed on the walls with the Optima typeface are the names of servicemen who either died or remained classified as 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 advisors 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 58,159 names when it was completed in 1993; as of May 5, 2007, when another name was added, there are 58,256 names, including 8 women. Approximately 1,200 of these are listed as missing (MIAs, POWs, and others), denoted with a cross; the confirmed dead are marked with a diamond. If the missing return alive, the cross is circumscribed by a circle, (although this has never occurred as of January 2007); 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."[1] Visitors can use directories to locate specific names.

Beginning and Ending Timeline for those listed on the wall

A Marine at Vietnam Memorial on 4th July 2002

September 26, 1945 OSS officer Lt. Col. A. Peter Dewey, working with the Viet Minh to repatriate captured Americans from the Japanese, was shot by the Viet Minh at a roadblock in Saigon. He is not recognized at the memorial as American involvement officially begins in 1955.
November 1, 1955 - Dwight D. Eisenhower deploys Military Assistance Advisory Group to train the South Vietnam Army. This marks the official beginning of American involvement in the war as recognized by the Memorial.
October 21, 1957 - Harry G. Cramer is killed during a training action. He is added to the wall after its dedication.
July 8, 1959 - Charles Ovnand and Dale R. Buis are killed by a sniper at Bien Hoa watching the movie The Tattered Dress, starring Jeanne Crain. They are listed 1 and 2 at the wall's dedication. Ovnand's name is misspelled on the memorial as "Ovnard."
April 30, 1975 - Fall of Saigon
May 15, 1975 - 18 soldiers 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 soldiers listed on the timeline (Daniel A. Benedett, Lynn Blessing, Walter Boyd, Gregory S. Copenhaver, Andres Garcia, Bernard Gause, Jr., Gary L. Hall, Joseph N. Hargrove, James J. Jacques, Ashton N. Loney, Ronald J. Manning, Danny G. Marshall, James R. Maxwell, Richard W. Rivenburgh, Elwood E. Rumbaugh, Antonio Ramos Sandovall, Kelton R. Turner, Richard Vande Geer).

The Three Soldiers

The Three Soldiers

A short distance away from the wall is another part of the memorial, a bronze statue named The Three Soldiers (sometimes called The Three Servicemen). Negative reactions to Lin's design created a raging 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 in order to complement the memorial wall.

The statue was unveiled in 1984 and depicts three soldiers, purposefully identifiable as White American, Black American, and Hispanic American. The statue and the Wall appear to interact with each other, with the soldiers looking on in solemn tribute at the names of their dead comrades. The distance between the two allows them to interact while minimizing the impact of the addition on Lin's design.

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 feet by 2 feet, 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, 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.

The Vietnam War was both the longest and arguably most controversial war in United States history to date. A stated goal of the memorial fund was to avoid commentary on the war itself, serving solely as a memorial to those who served. Nevertheless, a large number of controversies have surrounded the memorial.

Despite this, or even perhaps partly due to it, the memorial seems to have been very successful in many ways. As noted above, it is visited by millions of people every year, and thousands of offerings and tokens are left by visitors. One soldier in the film Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision was quoted saying, "It's a quiet place where I can stand and remember my friends. And that's all I would like to do."


Visitors at the memorialThe initial design for the complex was that of the memorial wall. The other elements were added later and were not part of the initial plans. The design was chosen by a panel of eight professional artists and architects. It is abstract in form, and strikingly in contrast to the figurative memorials, usually in white stone or bronze, whose tradition goes back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Thus, it did not meet many people's ideas of what a monument should look like.

Veterans and others complained that it looked too much like an ugly scar in the ground, reflecting the attitude and stigma the American government and public had towards the war and its veterans. In particular, the fact that the wall sloped down below ground level caused some to claim that the monument attempted to hide the war. Others claimed the dark stone made it look like a gravestone rather than glorifying the dead.

Maya Lin
As depicted in a documentary about Maya Lin (Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision), reactions to the chosen memorial design were intensely mixed. Racism drawn from the Pacific Theatre of WWII, Korean, and the Vietnam War placed Lin under scrutiny, even though she is of Chinese ancestry. At the time of the contest, Lin was a young student at Yale University. The wall was designed as a class project for a funerary design class. She had almost no knowledge of the war or the history surrounding it, and many were displeased by this.

Women's memorial
The original winning entry of the Women's Memorial design contest was deemed unsuitable. Glenda 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.

The Moving Wall, also known as The Traveling Wall
Vietnam veteran John Devitt of Stockton, California, attended the 1982 dedication ceremonies of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Recognizing what he saw as the healing nature of the Wall, he vowed to make a transportable version of the Wall, a "Traveling Wall" so those who were not able to travel to Washington, D.C. would be able to see and touch the names of friends or loved ones in their own home town.

Using personal finances, John founded Vietnam Combat Veterans, Ltd. With the help of friends, the half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, named The Moving Wall,[2] was built and first put on display to the public in Tyler, Texas, in 1984.

The Moving Wall visits hundreds of small towns and cities throughout the USA, staying five or six days at each site. Local arrangements for each visit are made months in advance by veterans organizations and other civic groups. Thousands of people all over the US volunteered their time and money to help honor the fallen.

Desire for a hometown visit of The Moving Wall was so high the waiting list became long. In 1987, Vietnam Combat Veterans built a second structure of The Moving Wall. A third structure was added in 1989. In 2001, one of the structures was retired due to wear.

By 2006, there had been more than 1000 hometown visits of The Moving Wall. The count of people who visited The Moving Wall at each display ranges from 5,000 to more than 50,000; the total estimate of visitors is in the tens of millions.

As the Wall moves from town to town on interstates, it is often escorted by state troopers and up to thousands of local citizens on motorcycles. As it passes towns, even when it is not planning a stop in those towns, local veterans' organizations sometimes plan for local citizens to gather by the highway and across overpasses to wave flags and salute the Wall.[2]

All nonperishable items left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial—with the exception of miniature American flags—are collected daily and stored at the Museum and Archeological Regional Storage Facility of the National Park Service.
A selection of items left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are on display at the American History section of the Smithsonian Institution, just a few blocks away from the Wall.
The flagpole that sits at the opening of the Memorial has the crests of the five branches of service at its base. It is tradition that Marine Corps Vietnam veterans bring brass polish to shine their service's crest, the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. This is done to show pride in their service. This tradition is not shared by the other branches.


Wreaths placed around the Three Soldiers Statue* Vietnam Veterans Memorial, National Park Service leaflet, GPO:2004—304-377/00203

The National Parks: Index 2001–2003. Washington: U.S. Department of the Interior.

^ Vietnam Memorial Fund - FAQs.
^ a b "Local AMVETS to Salute Wall", Greenville Advocate, July 17, 2007. Retrieved on 2007-07-30.

Further reading
Ashabranner, Brent K., Always to Remember: The Story of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Putnam, New York 1989.
Ashabranner, Brent K., Their Names to Live: What the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Means to America, Twenty-first Century Press, Brookfield CT, 1998.
Berdahl, Daphne, "Voices at the Wall: Discourses of Self, History and National Identity at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial," History & Memory: Studies in Representation of the Past 6 (Fall/Winter 1994), 88-124.
Blair, Carole, Jeppeson, Marsha S., and Pucci, Enrico Jr., "Public Memorializing in Postmodernity: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial as Prototype," Quarterly Journal of Speech 77 (August 1991), 263-288.
Carlson, A. Cheree, and Hocking, John E., "Strategies of Redemption at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial," Western Journal of Speech Communication 52 (September 1988), 203-215.
Carney, Lora S., "Not Telling Us What to Think: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial," Metaphor and Symbolic Activity 8 (1993), 211-219.
Danto, Arthur, "The Vietnam Veterans Memorial," The Nation, 31 August 1985, 152-155.
Ellis, Caron S., "So Old Soldiers Don't Fade Away: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial," Journal of American Culture 15 (Summer 1992), 25-28.
Ehrenhaus, Peter, "Silence and Symbolic Expression," Communication Monographs 55 (March 1988), 41-57.
Foss, Sonja K, "Ambiguity as Persuasion: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial," Communication Quarterly 34 (Summer 1986), 326-340.
Friedman, Daniel S., "Public Things in the Modern City: Belated Notes on Tilted Arc and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial," JAE: Journal of Architectural Education 49 (November 1995), 62-78.
Griswold, Charles L., "The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Washington Mall: Philosophical Thoughts on Political Iconography," Critical Inquiry 12 (Summer 1986), 688-719.
Haines, Harry, "'What Kind of War?': An Analysis of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial," Critical Studies in Mass Communucation 3 (1986), 1-20.
Hess, Elizabeth, "Vietnam: Memorials of Misfortune," in Unwinding the Vietnam War: From War into Peace (Reese Williams, ed.), Real Comet Press, Seattle 1987, 261-270.
Hubbard, William, "A Meaning for Monuments," The Public Interest 74 (Winter 1984), 17-30.
Katakis, Michael, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Crown, New York 1988.
Lopes, Sal, The Wall: Images and Offerings from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collins, New York 1987.
McLeod, Mary, "The Battle for the Monument: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial," in The Experimental Tradition (Helene Lipstadt, ed.), Rizzoli, New York 1989, 115-137.
Morrissey, Thomas F., Between the Lines: Photographs from the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse 2000.
Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl, “A Space of Loss: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.” JAE: Journal of Architectural Education 50 (February 1997), 156-171.
Palmer, Laura, Shrapnel in the Heart: Letters and Remembrances from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Random House, New York 1987.
Scott, Grant F., "Meditations in Black: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial," Journal of American Culture 13 (Fall 1990), 37-40.
Scruggs, Jan C., and Swerdlow, Joel L., To Heal a Nation: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Harper & Row, New York 1985.
Sturken, Marita, "The Wall, the Screen, and the Image: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial," Representations 35 (Summer 1991), 118-142.
Wagner-Pacific, Robin, & Schwartz, Barry, "The Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Commemorating a Difficult Past." The American Journal of Sociology, 97 (1991), 376-420.