Monday, March 26th marks the 25th anniversary of groundbreaking for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. Architect Maya Lin's 1982 design was considered controversial at the time. But today, the wall is widely seen as a simple, moving memorial -- the standard by which other memorials often are judged. VOA's Jeff Swicord talked with several veterans at a recent gathering in Washington - and asked them what the memorial has come to mean to them.
The Vietnam War memorial has been called one of the most poignant and meaningful monuments ever conceived.
For 25 years, U.S. military veterans and visitors from around the world have come here to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington to remember and honor those who lost lives in the war.
Veterans -- such as Steve Ryan who served as a hospital corpsman from 1968 to 1972. He is visiting the wall for the first time. "It's very moving. It's very moving and it's sad, but it is a happy feeling and it gives me closure. Because I wondered where a few of my fellow hospital corpsmen went after 1968. And, I see some of their names."
There are more than 58,200 names inscribed on the black granite wall. It is a place where veterans from across the U.S. can meet, remember and pay tribute to their fallen brothers.
Some look for the names of their friends and family members in quiet reflection. Others, like Frank Stroble, trade stories with other veterans. He served as a helicopter pilot from 1969 to 1970. "It chokes me up every time. It brings back a lot of memories because there are a lot of guys on the wall that I remember, and when I look at their names I remember them just like it was yesterday."
Volunteers at the memorial are mostly veterans or family members of those named on the wall. They are on hand to help visitors. They look up names in a directory, make rubbings of names on paper and just listen to visitors express their feelings.
Volunteer Chuck Schueckler also served as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. "You want to tell me anything about him?" he asks a visitor.
"After the war, most family members found out that their friends really didn't want to talk about the person who died in the war. So, coming and seeing the name and also having someone to talk with about the name, it gives them that opportunity,” Schueckler explained.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has been selected to receive the 2007 American Institute of Architects' 25 year award. The award is given for architectural design that has stood the test of time.
For most veterans, like John Staggs, the wall will always be an enduring symbol of the most fundamental American value. "Freedom. Without a doubt," he says. "These men have laid down their lives for something that this country has been built on, believe in."