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A Brief Summary of the Criteria and Sources for Names Inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
In the March 1980 Congressional hearing on the establishment of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund testified of its intention to inscribe all names of persons who had died during their military service in American's longest war on the still-to-be-designed memorial. The Department of Defense had compiled a list of casualties resultant from the hostilities in Vietnam, according to criteria set in an Executive Order and a DOD Instruction. Executive Order No. 11216, signed by President Johnson on April 24, 1965, designated Vietnam and adjacent coastal waters, within specified geographical coordinates, as a combat zone. As hostilities spread, the combat zone was expanded to include additional areas such as Laos and Cambodia in or over which U.S. forces operated, DOD Instruction 7730.22, ("Reports of U.S. Casualties in Combat Areas," January 20, 1967, and March 20, 1973) provided that the casualties to be reported were all those occurring within the designated combat areas and those deaths occurring anywhere as the result or aftermath of an initial casualty occurring in a combat area.
In February 1981, DOD Washington, Headquarters Services, provided VVMF with a computer printout of the Vietnam casualty list. This database contained 57,707 names, including those known or presumed to have died, those still officially missing in action (approximately 10) and those still officially prisoners (one, which was symbolic). The 57,707 figure included both casualties determined to be from battle or hostile causes and those from non-hostile or accidental causes.
VVMF felt a responsibility to cross-check the list and verify both that the names therein were spelled correctly and that no names had been omitted by error. To our knowledge, the source documents for the list compiled by DOD Washington were the DD Forms 1300 (military death certificates) forwarded by the casualty offices of each of the service branches. To cross check, VVMF, in the fall of 1981, contracted with National Personnel Records Center of the National Archives and Records Service in St. Louis, Missouri, to retrieve the official military personnel file of each of the men and women on the list and verify the information and name spelling. Approximately 150 names were found to be incorrectly spelled or lacking generational suffixes.
Since the millions of personnel files in St. Louis are not coded by service in Vietnam or any other theater, the inclusivity of the DOD list could not be verified. Therefore, VVMF contacted each of the different service branch casualty offices to obtain lists that may have been compiled independently of the DOD list, in order to cross-check. The Air Force, Army, Coast Guard and Marine Corps made such lists available, and VVMF cross-referenced them, either by hand or by computer, against the DOD list. All seven names from the Coast Guard list were on the DOD list. The Army list contained names for 53 men who were not on the DOD list. The Marine Corps casualty office forwarded approximately 60 names, seven of which, upon investigation, appeared to meet the criteria and were added by VVMF to the list. The Air Force had 18 service members who died in Laos or South Vietnam who were not found on the DOD list and were added. The greatest discrepancy was in the reporting of Air Force casualties in Thailand, most of which had not been included on the DOD list. An addition of approximately 160 names of Air Force personnel who had died in Thailand due to flight operations were added to the list.
VVMF added the names of the two first known casualties of the war, occurring in 1959, after verification that the DOD list had been begun arbitrarily with casualties occurring after January 1, 1961. Finally, VVMF added the names of eight crewmen of an Air Force bomber which exploded in air on a combat mission, which did not appear on the DOD list or the Air Force list, but were verified by the Air Force.
VVMF was extremely gratified when DOD set up a mechanism for thorough review, on an individual basis, all cases brought to its attention in which the name of a service member who died in the Vietnam War may have been omitted from the DOD list by error or who had died after the war from combat injuries. The need to review these cases became very clear soon after the Memorial was built. Cases were brought to our attention of service members whose combat injuries caused their deaths months or years after the return from the war zone. DOD has continued to provide assistance by reviewing these cases on an individual basis.
We are often asked to add a name that DOD has not approved. We do not have the authority to do this. Much emotion has surrounded the question of names not included on the list. Many families whose sons were taken from them in service during the Vietnam era but in other areas, as well as those whose loved ones died consequent to their return from the war (casualties of Agent Orange or PTSD-induced suicide), have expressed great disappointment that their loves one's name was not on the Memorial. Such cases have our deepest sympathy and respect, yet as they do not fit the parameters as described above, these names cannot be added to the Memorial.
Since 1982, when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated with 57,939 names, 333 names have been added, bringing the total to 58,272 as of Memorial Day 2011. The service branches and DOD have continued to work diligently to ensure that any names fitting the eligibility requirements are forwarded to the Memorial Fund, who retains and fulfills the responsibility for name addition to the Memorial. View a timeline of name additions.