The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is located to the north of the Reflecting Pool. It can be entered by several paths from Constitution Avenue, NW, or from the Reflecting Pool / Lincoln Memorial. The main feature is a 400+ foot-long wall containing the names of every US soldier killed or missing in the Viet Nam War from 1956 to 1975. There are two other important features: a statue of a group of soldiers in battle gear gazing over at the wall of names of their fallen comrades and an in-the-round statue dedicated to the nurses who lost their lives in the Vietnam War.
The concept of a wall of names of those killed in the Vietnam War was developed by Jan Scruggs a Vietnam Veteran. In 1979 Scruggs saw the movie The Deer Hunter that tells the story of three friends whose experiences in the Vietnam war left them emotionally scarred and struggling with PTSD.
Scruggs identified completely with this struggle and eventually raised $8,000,000 in private funds to build a Vietnam Veterans Memorial identifying the names of those who died or were missing in Vietnam. The 2 acres of land for the memorial to these men and women was identified by Congress in 1980.
In 1981 the design competition for the memorial was won by a 21-year-old female college student, Maya Lin. By 1984 an additional feature was added: a bronze statue of The Three Soldiers by Frederick Hart. In 1993 a third element, an in-the-round statuary composition Faith, Hope and Charity by Glenna Goodacre was added to honor the nurses who served and died in the war.
There were 58,282 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 2021. The average age of those killed or missing is 19. The names are NOT in alpha order but in casualty order beginning at the center top of the memorial. To find a name use the alpha directories posted at the entrances to the Wall or go online to www.vvmf.org where you will find the panel number and row number of your soldier’s name. Most days Park Service Volunteers are on hand to provide paper and pencils to make a rubbing of the name.
You will also discover there is code indicating whether each soldier was killed or is missing in action. There is a small diamond shape separating most of the names on the wall so that the names do not run together. But occasionally you will notice there is a cross shape where the diamond should be. The cross shape indicates the soldier is missing in action.
When a missing soldier is declared killed in action, a diamond shape is superimposed on the cross.
The design of the Wall has been controversial. From a bird’s eye view, the shape of the wall appears to be a laceration or a tear. This has been interpreted as a war wound or a tear of the fabric of society- caused by protests against the war. The black color of the granite (from India) has reminded many of death- casting the Vietnam war as a doomed struggle. Not all the Vietnam veterans were on board with the design of the wall and many of them insisted on adding Hart’s bronze statue of The Three Soldiers to more realistically depict what the day-to-day life of jungle combat looked like.
The selection of Maya Lin was criticized at the time because she was a student and campuses across the country were the centers of Vietnam war protests. She was also a female… of the names on the wall only 8 are female and they were nurses…what would a woman know of war or of a war memorial? And lastly, Maya Lin was Asian American and the enemy was Asian.