View Full Version : Vietnam Veterans Memorial marks 20th anniversary

11-09-02, 03:00 PM

Volunteer Arthur Drescher of Philadelphia, rubs a pencil over the name of a soldier etched on the black granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. — AP Photo

By Laurie Kellman
Associated Press

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has helped heal a war-torn nation and inspire tributes to other victims of tragedy.
The 58,229 names of those killed or missing in the war from 1959 to 1975 — all inscribed in black granite — are being read aloud over four days to help mark the memorial’s 20th anniversary.

Michael Milan’s uncle, Army Pvt. George W. Milan of Atlantic City, N.J., is among all those names. His should be read sometime this weekend.

Pvt. Milan was 22 when he was killed. His death came before his nephew was born. The wall bearing his name went up when the younger Milan was only 9.

Still, Michael feels a connection to his uncle and the service he gave his country.

“He’s the reason I went into the Army,” said Michael, a specialist from Evansville, Ind., as he used charcoal to rub his uncle’s name onto paper in the blustery hours Thursday before the name-reading began.

“This memorial makes it permanent, what they went through,” Milan said. “As long as this wall is here, people know what these soldiers fought for. They will know what they died for.”

The recitation of names is part of the healing process that designer Maya Lin envisioned when she sought to build a memorial that would separate the nation’s political divisions over the war from the human loss that resulted.

Its V-shaped arms were intended to draw people together at a quiet spot that dips below ground-level where, she hoped, people would grieve for those lost.

The past and present, Lin said, would meet on the shiny surface, where the chiseled names of the dead would mingle with the reflections of living visitors.

“This was something that gave Americans the license to mourn publicly,” said Jan Scruggs, founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund that is sponsoring the anniversary events.

A concert Wednesday was followed Thursday by a ceremony that opened the name-reading at the memorial. That endeavor was expected to take 65 hours over four days, ending at noon Sunday. Veterans Day will be observed there a day later.

The names form the structure’s emotional centerpiece. Inscribed in chronological order of death, they make the war’s cost personal. First listed is Army Maj. Dale R. Buis, 37, of Pender, Neb., one of two killed July 8, 1959. The last is Air Force Lt. Richard Vande Geer, 27, of Columbus, Ohio, one of 18 who died May 15, 1975.

On any given day, people leave notes, flowers and other trinkets. Someone left a can of beer Thursday, in a tribute to a soldier lost. Many make charcoal name rubbings to take home.

As a teenager in California, Carolyn Squires wore a bracelet bearing the name of Air Force Col. Stanley Scott Clark, even though she had never met him. On Thursday, she stepped back from rubbing his name and marveled — at the time passed, the expanse of names and the unexpected feeling of being soothed by the sight of the wall.

“I was angry for a long time because when they came back, people treated them badly,” Squires, now 45, said of returning veterans. “But now they are being honored.”

The memorial has inspired the creation of others, such as one across the Potomac to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.

Choosing six finalists last month from some 1,126 entries, the Pentagon memorial’s jury was struck by some familiar characteristics in the designs — quiet gathering places, visitor interaction, the inscription of every name.

“We began to realize what a powerful effect or influence the Vietnam Memorial had on our thinking,” said jury member Terence Riley, chief curator of the department of architecture and design at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. “It has changed everyone’s thinking about what a memorial is.”

Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.



11-12-02, 08:26 AM

By Shira Kantor, Chicago Tribune
Stars and Stripes, November 11, 2002

WASHINGTON — The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a sober tribute of black granite tucked neatly into the landscape of Washington's National Mall, turned 20 years old Monday.

The V-shaped wall, inscribed with the names of 58,229 veterans who died or went missing between 1959 and 1975 in one of the nation's most controversial military engagements, has long been a site of remembrance and healing for veterans and their families.

In a four-day ceremony that began Thursday, all of the names were read aloud by a series of volunteers, concluding Sunday, the day before Veterans Day. It was only the third time all of the names have been read aloud since the monument's creation, and it echoed the somber reading of roughly 3,000 victims' names at anniversary observances of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The wall has become one of the biggest draws in Washington, a combination of monument, shrine and tombstone, prompting passionate reactions, including tears. Throughout the weekend, several hundred people milled about the memorial, locating names, taking photos and paying their respects. Flowers, pictures and notes were strewn at the base of the monument, left behind by families and friends.

One handwritten note was addressed to "Ronnie" and signed "firefighter Doug," who thanked Ronnie for saving his life. Another honored a still-missing prisoner of war.

"I can tell you this: we know we're going to heaven when we die," said Denny Wolfe, an Army veteran who survived the 1968 Tet Offensive. "Because we spent our time in hell."

Sunday was Wolfe's first visit to the wall. He came to pay respects to a friend who had seen him through nearly a year of what was often heavy combat, only to die in an accident four days before he was supposed to go home.

Tears welled in Wolfe's eyes as he fingered the lettering of his friend's name on the memorial. He placed a framed letter and a medal on the ground in front of the monument. "We're bonded," Wolfe said. "We're brothers to the end."

Wolfe was accompanied by his friend Teddy Watson, who served during the war as a helicopter door gunner. The two men both saw combat during Tet but did not meet until about five years ago.

"The Tet Offensive was supposed to be a truce," Watson said. "They lied to us. That's kind of like what the whole war was, a lie."

Vietnam veteran Robert Romano looked solemnly into a camera Friday as someone snapped a photo of him and his family in front of the statue of three soldiers a few feet from the engraved black slabs. It was Romano's second time visiting the memorial.

"It's a touchy thing," Romano said. "I got a few people on the wall. And they're not here and I'm here. It's hard." Some of Romano's childhood friends died in the war, he said, and as time passes, it only gets harder to cope with the loss.

"A friend of mine, Poochie, he's on the wall," Romano said. "We went through boot camp together."

Romano served as a Marine infantryman in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. He said he lived with Vietnamese citizens, charged with protecting them against Viet Cong fighters backed by the communist government of North Vietnam.

For Romano, one of the most frustrating results of the war was the lack of respect he and his cohorts received upon coming home. "When I got back from Vietnam, I was (treated) like a dirtbag," Romano said. "We all did what we did for our country because we love our country. People don't understand that."

The 20-year-old memorial was built in part to remedy that. Designed to look like a book and provide a place of solitude for reflection, it draws thousands of people each year.

Maya Lin of Ohio designed the memorial when she was a senior at Yale University. The structure was originally criticized as too simple, and it deviated from the grandiose approach some expected, perhaps showing soldiers in heroic poses.

But appreciation for the monument's simplicity and power grew steadily, and now people come to see their faces reflected in the black surface, or to make a pencil rubbing on a piece of paper of a friend or relative's name.

"In the design of the memorial, a fundamental goal was to be honest about death, since we must accept that loss in order to begin to overcome it," Lin wrote in her 2000 book, "Boundaries." "Simple as it may seem, I remember feeling that accepting a person's death is the first step in being able to overcome that loss."

As the names were read Sunday, about 35 people sat facing a temporary stage temporarily erected near the memorial. Dozens more wandered about the memorial lawn where uniformed veterans toted various flags honoring soldiers who fought in Vietnam.

Though it was a less elaborate scene than some of the readings of the Sept. 11 victims, the sheer length of time it took to announce the 58,229 names_nearly four full days_made a powerful statement.

One man read through a list of 30 names, pausing briefly to find the voice he suddenly lost as he got to the last one: his brother.

Sue Doughty, 47, said she had no family or loved ones affected by the Vietnam War, but volunteered to read 30 names anyway.

"I just wanted to be part of something special," Doughty said.

Doughty works with a Vietnam veteran in her hometown of Griffith, Ind., and she came to the memorial in a brown leather coat adorned with Staff Sgt. James Kurzweil's combat pins and patches.

"I don't think (Kurzweil) has ever been to the wall," Doughty said. "So I promised to get nice pictures of the wall for him."

Doughty was not alone in coming to the wall without knowing someone whose name is engraved on the memorial.

Robert Kmetz and his wife Beverly, of Clifton, N.J., brought their 9-year-old son Matthew to view the memorial. Robert Kmetz said he does not know of anyone in his family who served in the war, but the three managed to locate on the wall a veteran who shares their last name. Impressed, the family took a photograph.


Two Gold Star Mothers talk with a young servicemember Monday at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.