April 5, 2012

The Vietnam Memorial

We talk with the founder 30 years after the memorial was dedicated.

Jessica: Every year, about 4 million people visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. to honor those who fought and died in the Vietnam War.

The popularity of The Wall is a proud accomplishment for the man who came up with the vision and who was there for the memorial’s groundbreaking, thirty years ago.

“When people leave things at The Wall, people let go of their grief and that was what a lot of what this was about — people saying goodbye.”

Jessica: It was Jan Scruggs’ idea to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. But he never dreamed so many mementos would be left behind at what is now called The Wall — so many, in fact, that a warehouse is needed to store them all. There are boots, letters, hats, purple hearts, which are medals for hurt veterans and lots of dog tags — identification worn by soldiers.

“The fact that these dog tags were around the necks of these soldiers in Vietnam, these are authentic.”

Jessica: Scruggs is a Vietnam veteran himself. He started the memorial project with $2,800 of his own money. He went on to raise 8 million.

“When anybody died in Vietnam, you just had a feeling nobody would ever remember. That’s why I had to have their names up there.”

Jessica: There are more than 58,000 names, one of them is Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shine. The Air Force pilot was listed as missing in action in 1972. His daughter Colleen Shine was eight at the time.

“I think one of the most amazing qualities of The Wall is you see yourself in it. I see my father’s name here and he’s no longer living and his legacy is living. That reflection is me.”

Jessica: The Wall is also for those too young to remember the Vietnam War but old enough to learn about the troops who died there. Letters from young people are often left alongside The Wall, like this one written by a sixth-grader named Michael. It was addressed to Marine Michael Vasquez.

“Thank you, once again, from Michael.”

Jessica: For Scruggs, seeing young people today remembering those who lost their lives in vietnam fifty years ago is very special.

“It’s an amazing thing.”

Jessica: The Wall will host a special ceremony to honor fallen heroes, veterans and those affected by war on Memorial Day.


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