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Vietnam Veterans Memorial Archives Contains More Than 100,000 Items

This year marks the 25 anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Every day, mementos of love and remembrance are left at the wall of the memorial. Many are tokens of appreciation to the American military who died in the Vietnam War. The items are collected each day and taken to a museum storage facility near Washington.

At a museum resource center, more than 100,000 mementos are stored in metal cases and blue boxes. They range from war medals, identification tags and photos -- to military hats, balls, and heartwarming letters from family members. A Vietnam veterans group from the state of Wisconsin left the largest object -- a custom built motorcycle.

Duery Felton is a Vietnam veteran who is the curator of the collection. "We have the only Medal of Honor -- which is America's highest military award for gallantry -- we have the only Medal of Honor to be voluntarily returned by the recipient to the federal government."

The Vietnam War, which took place from the 1960s to early '70s, was one of the United States' most controversial wars. In 1965, the U.S. sent troops to prevent the South Vietnamese government from collapsing. Proponents of the war thought the U.S. should stay in South Vietnam so it would not fall to North Vietnamese communists. Critics argued that the war was immoral and the South Vietnamese government lacked political legitimacy. Opposition to the war grew in the U.S. and in the late 1960s most of the public was against it.

After U.S. troops pulled out of Vietnam, the south was brought under communist control in 1975.

In Washington, the black granite wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial contains the names of the more than 58,000 American military who died in Vietnam.

Janis Nark was an Army nurse in Vietnam who is on the memorial's board of directors. "I remember the first object that brought me to my knees was a pair of worn combat boots that I could just picture being removed from a wounded or dying soldier."

The U.S. National Park Service oversees the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The Park Service's Pam West says when the memorial was opened to the public no one imagined so many personal items would be left there. She thinks it is a way for the generation of the 1960s to heal from a controversial war.

"We protested together, we grieved together and I think it was really the beginning of this public grieving that you see now. And so when this phenomena happened with this collection, it was unexpected, you know, just things that are unbelievable that you would leave at a public memorial."

The museum resource center is not open to the public. But items from the collection will be displayed at an underground educational facility that is being built near the memorial. It is expected to be completed in three years.