Walking along the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall (5 Henry Bacon Dr NW, Washington DC), it’s hard not to feel moved by the score of names. It may be one of the best spots in the U.S. to do some soul-searching while considering the ultimate sacrifices made by the nation’s war heroes.
Arguably, millions of people died during the Vietnam War. This memorial, however, pays tribute to the more than 58,000 U.S. service members that died over the nearly 20-year conflict. The wall originally listed 58,191 names (in chronological order) when it was completed in 1983; as of May 2011, there were 58,272 names, including eight women. Approximately 1,200 of the soldiers on the wall are listed as missing. Those missing are denoted with a cross, while the confirmed dead are marked with a diamond.
The Memorial Wall was designed by architect Maya Lin, who was 21 at the time. Part of the monument’s success lay in creating a piece that was not overtly political. Despite initial controversy, the wall has gone on to be a well-respected contribution to modern U.S. architecture. It consists of two gabbro walls 246 feet 9 inches (75 m) long. The main portion of the memorial is in Constitution Gardens adjacent to the National Mall, just northeast of the Lincoln Memorial.
Visitors place thousands of sentimental items at the memorial each year. Fascinatingly, these items are transported and catalogued at a local museum. People have left some remarkable items over the years, including a Harley Davidson motorcycle with the license plate “HERO”.
“No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now.” –Richard M. Nixon, 1985
Nearby the memorial wall, you can find the famous bronze statue called The Three Soldiers. One soldier is black, one is white, and the other is Hispanic. The piece was created by U.S.-based sculptor Frederick Hart in 1984. In part, Hart’s statue was a kind of peace offering to those who felt Lin’s work was too cold or lacked a message or meaning.
In the same area, you can also find the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, dedicated to females who served in the war. The statue, by artist Glenna Goodacre, depicts three uniformed women helping a wounded soldier. The memorial pays tribute to the fact that most women who served in Vietnam were nurses.