Like most capital cities, Washington, D.C., has its share of monuments and memorials. November 13, one of those monuments, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, marks its 25th anniversary. As VOA's Susan Logue reports, the once controversial memorial has become a powerful symbol and a place of healing for many Americans.
For the fourth time in 25 years, the names of more than 58,000 Americans who were killed during the Vietnam War were read aloud. Long after the events surrounding the 25th anniversary of the Vietnam Memorial are over, the names will remain; etched in stone, on two 75-meter long, black granite walls along with the year the war began, 1959, and the year it ended, 1975.
"To see 58,000 names carved into black marble is extremely moving," says Vietnam veteran Len Funk, who knew a number of the men whose names are on the Wall.
He remembers the day the Wall was dedicated 25 years ago as “a chance to gather and come out as you might say.”
“This was a difficult war to come back from,” Funk recalls. “We weren't really welcomed and a lot of us were struggling with inner issues.”
Felllow Vietnam veteran Jan Scruggs describes the era as “very divisive.” “There were major protests in Washington and other cities,” he recalls.
“I felt there was a need for something to bring recognition to the veterans of Vietnam. The memorial was my idea as a way to do it."
Scruggs founded the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, and seeded the project with $2,800.00 of his own money.
Annemarie Emmett has volunteered at the memorial for 20 years, greeting tourists, friends, family members, and veterans of the Vietnam War. "I still do meet veterans who introduce themselves and say, "This is my first visit. I served from '67 to '68. I couldn't come here until today.'"
Mike Bernowski, who came from Howell, Michigan, for the 25th anniversary is one of those veterans. "I've got a lot of friends that have said this has given them some closure, and I guess that is maybe what I'm looking for, too."
Many Americans visit the wall not only to honor loved ones, but the memorial itself. Elvis Carden came from Atlanta, Georgia, to sing an original composition, “We Cry Together at the Wall,” at a special event in honor of the 25th anniversary.
"All veterans are touched in different ways with the Wall,” Carden says. The Wall is probably the most healing and best experience of any Vietnam vet."
Today, many visitors are too young to remember the Vietnam War, but the current war in Iraq has raised their interest.
Surprisingly, this Memorial that has moved more than one generation was not well received when 21-year-old Maya Lin’s design was chosen in a competition among 1400 other entries. Described by the architect herself as resembling “a wound in the earth that is slowly healing,” it was, to say the least, unconventional.
"There were some people who actually stopped the entire project, people in the U.S. Congress. So we needed a compromise,” says Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund President Jan Scruggs."
The compromise was to add a statue depicting three soldiers, who overlook the Wall below. But it is the Wall that attracts more than four million visitors every year. Jan Scruggs says it will continue to long after the last veteran of the Vietnam War is gone. "The visitation will continue, because it is a great work of architecture."