On This Day

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David Bjorgen
Names on the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial

On This Day: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Opened

November 10, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Nov. 10, 1982, the controversial Vietnam Veterans Memorial near the National Mall in Washington, D.C., was opened to its first visitors.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is made up of two 10-foot-tall, 246-foot-wide black granite walls forming a V that pints toward the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The walls bear the names of all the servicemen and women killed during the Vietnam War and the greater conflict in East Asia between 1957 and 1975.

The wall was designed by Maya Lin, a 21-year-old Yale University student who won a national contest with more than 1,400 design submissions. According to the National Parks Service, the design “deliberately [set] aside the controversies of the war” because Lin felt “the politics had eclipsed the veterans, their service and their lives.”

The names on the memorial are organized chronologically and arranged so that the names of the first and last to die are positioned where the two walls meet. “Thus the war’s beginning and end meet; the war is ‘complete,’ coming full-circle, yet broken by the earth that bounds the angle’s open side, and continued within the earth itself,” explained Lin in her submission essay.

Lin’s design was met with controversy, as some veterans and congressmen found the design too dark and somber, and argued that it did not express what the men and women had been fighting for.

Vietnam veteran Tom Carhart, a leader in the opposition to the wall, called it “a black trench that scars the Mall. Black walls, the universal color of shame and sorrow and degradation. Hidden in a hole in the ground … Perhaps that’s an appropriate design for those who would spit on us still. But can America truly mean that we should feel honored by that black pit?

Congress nearly stopped the construction of the memorial, but reached a compromise that called for the inclusion of a statue and an American flag to be built nearby. The statue, completed in 1984, depicts three soldiers of three different races.
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