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US Vietnam Veterans Memorial Becomes Place of Healing

  • Carol Pearson

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., was designed to make no political statement. It does not glorify the war, nor does it glorify a particular battle. Instead as Maya Lin, its designer, said it is a "memorial ... for those who have died, and for us to remember them."

"People leave a lot of interesting things at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. And one of these things just says, 'God bless you, John,' says Jan Scruggs, a veteran of the war between the United States and North Vietnam that ended 30 years ago. He is also the founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which lists the names of all Americans who died in the war. Since it was dedicated in 1982, people have left behind simple messages scrawled on scraps of paper, typewritten letters, photos, flowers and medals.

"The plan was for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to become a place of healing, a place of healing and reconciliation for our entire country. It's wonderful to see that it succeeded at this goal," he explains.

Mr. Scruggs says public interest in the memorial has not waned that more visitors come to see the memorial with each year that goes by. And that means more mementos left behind. Bill Line, spokesman for the U.S. National Park Service, which maintains the memorial, says the park service expected people to leave some mementos behind.

"I think what was not expected was the number of items that were left behind," says Mr. Line.

The mementos and letters now fill three rooms in a large warehouse. Psychologist Dorree Lynn, who comments on social and political issues, says people leave memorabilia at the memorial, also called "the wall" for two reasons.

"One, it is a form of closure and a way of mourning. And to say 'This is my brother. This is my family. This is someone I valued.' It gives them a way to place their grief, even today. The other is at the opposite end of the spectrum. They say, 'Let's keep the memory alive as a way of keeping a fundamental experience in their life, in the life of people who lived in that era alive. They don't want people to forget. That's what the Wall represents. That's what leaving memorabilia represents. It represents the continuity of memory as well as a form of closure," explains Dr. Dorree Lynn.

Dr. Lynn points out Americans were deeply divided about the Vietnam War and whether the lives that were lost were lost in vain. She says one way of healing is by remembering.

Many of the visitors who come to the memorial are too young to remember the war. Mr. Scruggs says plans call for building a new, underground visitors center so young people can learn more about the memorial, the war and those whose names are etched on the wall.

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