Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park
Dedicated in 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is one of America’s most popular and moving tourist attractions. Maya Lin’s revolutionary minimalist design looks like a gash on the landscape and contains more than 58,000 names of those who lost their lives between 1957 and 1975.
The Memorial’s unique design encourages interaction; visitors leave flags, flowers, old letters and idiosyncratic objects at the Wall.
What is the Memorial?
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, often referred to as The Wall, is a black granite V-shaped structure that contains the names of the 58,000 servicemen and women killed or missing in action during the Vietnam War between 1955 and 1975. The Wall’s revolutionary minimalist design was conceived by Yale University graduate Maya Lin and reflects an antithesis to the traditional format of a war memorial which usually includes figurative heroic sculpture.
The outer ring of the memorial is composed of 22 black granite panels, each engraved with the name of a missing or killed soldier along with their branch of service, rank, hometown and age. The inner ring is comprised of four life-sized bronze statues depicting the experiences of those who served in the conflict: a soldier on patrol, two exhausted friends, a POW and a nurse.
The Wall That Heals
The Wall That Heals brings the souls enshrined at The Wall home for those who were never able to visit its sister monument in Washington, D.C. This traveling exhibit consists of an official three-quarter scale replica of The Wall and a mobile education center.
The names of the 58,276 service members who died or remain missing in action in Vietnam are listed on The Wall. The names are arranged in chronological order by date of casualty. Names are shown in lower case letters and use a typeface called Optima, designed by Hermann Zapf. A circle at the end of a name indicates POW/MIA status.
In addition to The Wall, The Memorial Park features the Three Soldiers statue and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. A variety of educational programs are available upon request.
The Memorial Fountain symbolizes the power of water to cleanse and heal. Its five rectangular, inter-connected pools presented from smallest to largest represent America’s growing involvement throughout the war, concluding in two pools symbolic of divided opinions on the war at the time.
Lin’s minimal design was a departure from the traditional format for a war memorial. It engendered controversy and was widely criticized as insensitive to those who lost their lives or were wounded during the war.
The names of those who gave their lives for their country are inscribed on the Wall, with those still missing from action designated by a circle and those who have returned home by a * symbol. Thousands of memorial bricks have been placed around the Memorial Wall and Fountain by local citizens and families to honor their loved ones who served in Vietnam.
The Three Soldiers Statue
One of the most poignant features of the memorial are the three bronze statues, known as “Three Soldiers,” that stand a few feet away from The Wall. The soldiers are dressed and equipped just as they would have been during the war. This is done to humanize the veterans and to separate them from a war that was often seen as an abuse of American power.
Each soldier represents a Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic serviceman to symbolize the multi-ethnic makeup of the Vietnam War’s combat forces. They all face the memorial, gazing upon the names of their comrades on The Wall.
The Three Soldiers, like The Wall itself, illustrate the memorial’s use of abstract form to achieve memory. The abstract nature of the memorial allows visitors to create their own meaning and remembrance, unlike more traditional forms of memorialization which only allow for a specific narrative.
The Vietnam Women’s Memorial
During the Vietnam War, women served as nurses and in other roles. This memorial, designed by sculptor Glenna Goodacre, is a reminder of the need to remember all the contributions of those who died in the war. The memorial depicts three uniformed women tending to a wounded soldier. It is the first and only monument to military women on the National Mall.
It is a peaceful place to reflect on the lives of those who died in the war and their families at home. While the memorial has its critics, many people appreciate its revolutionary minimalist design and the way it honors those who gave their lives. The site is accessible 24 hours a day, year-round.