The Viet Nam War Memorial

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Overlander on December 17, 2001

It was perhaps inevitable that the memorial to the dead and missing soldiers in this most contentious and criticized of American wars should have been nearly as controversial during its design, construction, and the first year or two after its dedication as the war that it commemorates. The simplicity of the design, the absence of romantic, vainglorious statuary and paeans to heroic deeds -- so often part and parcel of such monuments -- are utterly absent. Except for a trio of splendid bronzes depicting the common soldiers involved that were added later as a kind of afterthought as a sop to those who disliked the principal elements of the monument, it is but a simple marble wall built into a gash in the earth like a bandage used to staunch blood from an open wound. On this polished stone are etched the names of each soldier and officer, more than 58,000 of them, who died in action or were -- or are still -- missing in action. Significantly, the names are listed in the chronological order of their deaths or disappearances.

A visit to the memorial is a moving experience, much more so than I ever expected. We approached from the direction of the Lincoln Memorial on a cool and very misty, dreary morning. The wall sort of sneaks up on you, seemingly growing out of the earth just a few inches high. Almost at ground level is the first name, a soldier who died in 1963. As you walk along beside the wall, it gradually and inexorably grows taller and taller until it's over 10 feet up to its top. And each block of marble is covered with names and more names of the fallen. Very soon you feel the need-- at least I did -- to run your fingers over the names, for this monument speaks with an intimacy I've rarely experienced. Most war memorials dwarf you with their grandiosity; this one mesmerizes you with its quiet, almost introverted dignity.

One of the purposes of our visit was to look for the name of a brother of a college friend of my wife's. We were only vaguely aware that it might be possible; however, it turned out to be very simple, for conveniently located at the beginning and end of the wall are little enclosed "desks" with indexes listing each and every name, their origins, and their units, thereby enabling the visitor to look up the name of someone they knew who fell. The indexing system is very well thought out and the explanation is very clear, so we were able to find the name. We won't soon forget the experience.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Bacon Drive and Constitution Avenue
Washington, D.C., United States
(202) 426-6841

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