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Remembering Vietnam My War Story - Bill Nelson
My War Story - Marsh Carter
My War Story - Nancy Sinatra
My War Story - Sen. Chuck Hagel
My War Story - Ron Nessen
- Planned Giving
Significance to Veterans, Families of the Dead and Missing and the Nation
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or The Wall as it is more widely known, was initially conceived to honor and to recognize the nearly 58,000* service members who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War, as well as the more than 3 million American men and women who served in the conflict.
The Vietnam War era had been an unpopular and divisive time in U.S. history. There were neither parades nor speeches by politicians or celebrities to honor the fallen, the missing and the returning service members. There had been many protests against the war. Many Vietnam veterans were ridiculed and faced unrelenting contempt as they returned home.
The Wall’s founders – the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund – hoped that a memorial would serve as a place where the injustices those brave service members had encountered could at long last be rectified. The Memorial has greatly surpassed its initial mission of honoring those who served in the Vietnam War.
In the more than 25 years since its dedication, The Wall has transcended the vision of its founders to become much more than just another memorial in a city filled with memorials. It has become a sacred place of remembrance, reverence, reflection and spiritual connection with lost comrades and loved ones. But most of all, The Wall has become a symbol of healing—for individuals, for families, for brothers and sisters in arms and for a nation that belatedly, and gratefully, paid homage to those who had served in one of America’s longest and most controversial wars.
The more than 58,000 names inscribed on the Memorial’s black granite walls are more than merely a listing of those who lost their lives. To families, each name represents a direct physical connection with the loved one who was tragically taken from them during the war that spanned nearly two decades in Southeast Asia.
To Vietnam veterans, The Wall is a place to honor those with whom they served, remember those who never returned home from Vietnam and begin healing the physical and psychological wounds left from their service.
The Wall’s healing powers have made it one of the most popular memorials in the nation’s capital, receiving 4 million visitors each year. More importantly, those healing powers have helped many families, friends and veterans find peace and comfort.
The Wall That Heals
For many, The Wall has taken on religious significance, and it has become more a shrine than a monument. The Wall beckons people to a place where they can share their feelings and their pain.
Since its dedication, The Wall has touched millions of people. The 1982 dedication was a tangible homecoming for Vietnam veterans. Although most had returned years before, their homecoming was bittersweet. The Memorial became a real symbol of recognition and honor.
Many have pointed to the Memorial as a place where veterans could find closure, dubbing it “The Wall that Heals.” The Memorial has, in many cases, allowed veterans to reflect, remember lost friends and heal their own wounds.
The power of The Wall extends beyond its impact on Vietnam veterans. Few visitors are left untouched by its symbolism. While thousands of children and international visitors may know little about the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, most are awestruck by the Memorial and the sheer number of individuals who lost their lives in battle or are still unaccounted for to this day.
Today, The Wall has evolved to teach younger generations about the impact of war. Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Founder and President Jan Scruggs, a wounded and decorated Vietnam veteran, said: “I think [the Memorial] will make people feel the price of war.”
Offerings of Love and Healing
The first act of healing at the site was made as concrete was being poured for the foundation of the new Vietnam Veterans Memorial. As the story is told, a U.S. Navy officer walked up to the edge of the trench and stood there for a short time. Then he threw something in, saluted and left. Construction workers discovered that the object the officer threw in was his deceased brother’s medal—a Purple Heart.
No one knew that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial would one day become an altar for offerings of love and remembrance for lost loved ones. Yet The Wall has become just that, and a Purple Heart left by a grieving Navy officer was the first of more than 150,000 items left at The Wall.
Through the years, the objects left to honor, pay respect to or remember fallen family members and comrades have been collected and preserved by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS). Thus was born the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection is unlike any museum collection in the world. Among the artifacts collected here are photographs, letters, MIA/POW bracelets, medals, helmets, dogtags, boots, canned food, unopened beer cans, cigarettes, birthday cards, toys, bullets and casings. Service members, families and friends leave items with personal meaning for their fellow comrades and loved ones who did not return.
These offerings are direct communications between the living and the dead—tangible bonds between those who were killed and those who remember. They tell us not only something about the people memorialized on The Wall, but as well as any history book, they tell us about an era.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection was developed to preserve this special memorabilia. Nothing is chosen by a museum curator. Many of these artifacts are chosen by those who lived through this turbulent time in American history and thus have become a living testament to an era.
Each day, park rangers collect the offerings, place them in individual bags and tag them with the date, a description and the number of the panel where the offering was left. They are then transferred to the NPS’s Museum Resource Center in Lanham, Md., about 12 miles from The Wall.
In Lanham, the items are carefully organized and preserved. The artifacts are so historically and socially significant, that museums throughout the world have displayed parts of this unique collection. Through the highly personal communications from the living to the dead, visitors are able to see the impact of the Vietnam War.
Why do people leave these offerings? The reasons behind them are as varied as the items themselves. Some pay off old debts by leaving dollars, cigarettes and cans of beer. One woman left two sonograms for the grandfather her children would never know. Another woman left her wedding ring at The Wall. She was getting re-married the next day and wanted to say goodbye and let go of her first husband who died in Vietnam.
Perhaps the letters and cards say the most. Their words portray feelings of rage, despair, loneliness, loss and guilt. People leave cards for birthdays, Father’s and Mother’s Days and other holidays that will never be celebrated.
By communicating with loved ones through The Wall, people are able to confront feelings they may have repressed for years. They can make peace with themselves and others as pain and guilt are released. Over the years, the letters increasingly reveal love, forgiveness and renewed hope.
In this way, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is much more than a way to honor those men and women who served their country. It has become a conduit for a nation’s healing.
* When the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 1982, it contained the names of 57,939 men and women who died or remain missing from the Vietnam War. Names have been added since then.