One day soon I will visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. I had a preview of this trip last week, when DeVry University in Fremont hosted “Bringing Home the Wall” August 10-13. The traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall is smaller than the one in Washington and shows more than 58,000 names of servicemen and women who died or are missing in action from the Vietnam War. This replica evokes emotions that I imagine will only be more pronounced when one is seeing and touching the actual memorial.
The Wall is one of three elements that make up the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The first part of the memorial to be erected, the Wall was dedicated November 13, 1982 and today bears 58,226 names. Maya Ying Lin, a 21-year-old senior Yale student from Athens, Ohio, designed the Wall. Following a debate on whether the Wall appropriately honored Vietnam War veterans, a sculpture designed by Frederick Hart was dedicated on Veterans Day 1984 and placed near the Wall. The statue, a grouping of three men carrying infantry weapons, has been called both The Three Soldiers and The Three Servicemen. The men are wearing Vietnam War era uniforms and could be from any branch of the U.S. military at that time. Interpretations of the work vary with some saying the troops have the “thousand yard stare” of combat soldiers. Others say the troops are on patrol and begin looking for their own names as they come upon the Memorial.
The Vietnam Women’s Memorial rounds out the memorial. Designed by Glenna Goodacre, the statue of three women, one of whom is tending to a wounded serviceman, honors all women who served in Vietnam. The Women’s Memorial was dedicated on Veterans Day 1993. Of her sculpture, Goodacre has said: “The photos from Vietnam often included stacks of sandbags. It seemed natural for a nurse – in a moment of crisis – to be supported by sandbags as she serves as the life support for a wounded soldier lying across her lap. The standing woman looks up, in search of a med-i-vac helicopter or, perhaps, in search of help from God. The kneeling figure has been called ‘the heart and soul’ of the piece because so many vets see themselves in her. She stares at any empty helmet, her posture reflecting her despair, frustrations, and all the horrors of war. ”
The traveling Vietnam Memorial that was in Fremont incorporated an image of The Three Soldiers in the Wall, but I did not see the Vietnam Women’s Memorial represented.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commemorative Plaque, also known as the In Memory Plaque, was dedicated in November 2004. The simple plaque of granite stone in the northeast corner of the Three Servicemen Statue Plaza is intended to honor Vietnam veterans who died after service in Vietnam, but as a direct result of that service, and whose names are not eligible for placement on the Memorial because of Department of Defense policies. The inscription reads: “In memory of the men and women who served in the Vietnam War and later died as a result of their service. We honor and remember their sacrifice.”
One day soon I will be in Washington, D.C., to pay my respects at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Then I can cross that one off my “bucket list”. In the meantime, I can read up on the Vietnam War.