The sombre black granite walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial have become a shrine, with pilgrims coming to touch the more than 58,000 names, make pencil rubbings and leave flowers, letters and flags. In 1981, 21-year-old Yale University senior Maya Ying Lin won the nationwide competition with this striking abstract design—two walls, each just over 246ft long—angled to enfold the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in a symbolic embrace. Political pressures forced later additions: first, a flagpole, then a sculpture by Frederick Hart of three Vietnam GIs. In 1993 came the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, a sculpture group inspired by Michelangelo’s Pietà. Happily, these additions were placed harmoniously.
Names on the wall appear in the chronological order that they became casualties. To descend gradually past the thousands of names to the nadir, then slowly emerge, is to follow symbolically America’s journey into an increasingly ferocious war, only to try to "wind it down" over years. It can be a genuinely touching experience.
Fundraising is currently under way for an education center at the memorial.
|Venue name:||Vietnam Veterans Memorial||Contact:|
West Potomac Park, just north of the Reflecting Pool
|Cross street:||at Henry Bacon Drive & Constitution Avenue, NW|
|Transport:||Foggy Bottom or Smithsonian Metro|
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The size of the wall is shocking, knowing that each panel consists of hundreds of names. The phone book-like listing of the people who died is startling as well. Seated next to the Lincoln Memorial, this memorial to the Vietnam War does an impressive job of remembering these people. Seeing former soldiers around the site is always a reminder of how this continues to inspire.