Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial remembers the men and women who served and died in the most recent of the three wars commemorated on the National Mall. Dedicated in 1982, it is the oldest of the three veterans memorials.
With the fall of Saigon in 1975, Vietnam was a war that even the most jingoistic American political and military leaders had to admit America lost.
More than 2.5 million Americans served and more than 58,000 died in Vietnam. It was a war that deeply divided the country as the number of combat troops escalated during the 1960s and nightly news broadcasts brought the horrors of war to living room television sets across the nation. The veterans who came home were sometimes called “baby killers;” there were certainly no parades for them.
Architect Maya Lin’s profoundly moving memorial makes no political statement about Vietnam. Her design, which she submitted to a national competition when she was an undergraduate at Yale University, is simple—two walls of polished black granite inscribed with the 58,256 names of U.S. war dead.
Each name is listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the chronological order of his or her death. For veterans, family members, friends, and the general public, the memorial has become an almost consecrated site for both public and private grief. Photos and mementos are often left beside the wall near the names of loved ones.
Two sculptures have been added to the memorial since its dedication. Frederick Hart’s Three Servicemen, with its comrades in arms, reminds visitors that wars are always fought by the young. It was installed in 1984. The Vietnam Women’s Memorial, a statue of three women that are helping a wounded soldier, was added to the larger memorial in 1993. Created by Glenna Goodacre, the sculpture honors the thousands of women who served as nurses, physical therapists, photographers, language translators, and in other roles in all branches of the armed services. The eight yellow wood trees that form a circle around the statue were planted in tribute to the eight servicewomen killed in action.
by Katie Calvert