5 Things You Didnt Know About The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

On November 13, 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. The long row of black granite slabs, each engraved with the names of those who died as a result of the war, has become one of the best-known war memorials in the country. Here are five things you didn't know about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

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The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Was Built Without Government Funds It's not unusual for a national museum or monument to receive some federal funding, such as the federal appropriations for the Smithsonian or the Washington Monument. However, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was funded solely by donations and money obtained through fundraising. Congress did set aside land for the memorial, but no money came from the government. The original funds -- $2,800 -- came from a wounded Vietnam War veteran named Jan C. Scruggs, who after watching the move "The Deer Hunter," proposed setting up a memorial as a way to help vets heal from the trauma of war. With the help of celebrities and a couple hundred thousand Americans, the fund grew to $8.4 million.

A College Student Won The Memorial’s Design Contest Those who supported the memorial had no design in mind. Instead, they held a design contest in which anonymous submissions would be evaluated. The guidelines stipulated that the memorial should contain the names of every American who died in Vietnam or remained missing in action, and make no political statement about the war. Over 1,400 submissions came in, to be judged anonymously by a panel of eight artists and designers. In the end, the panel passed over every professional architect in favor of 21-year-old Yale University student Maya Lin. Her design had actually been part of a class project in a course on funereal architecture. She entered the design in the memorial contest at the urging of her professor.

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There Was Some Serious Opposition to Lin's Minimalist Design Lin's design was loved by many as it was seen as centering the names of those who died and not drawing attention away to any bells or whistles. However, to some, the memorial was quite controversial, and didn't sit well with a lot of people. Much of the opposition focused on how depressing the black structure looked. Author Tom Wolfe called it “a tribute to anti-war activist Jane Fonda,” Vietnam veteran Jim Webb, a future U.S. Senator, referred to it as “a nihilistic slab of stone,” and political commentator Pat Buchanan accused one of the design judges of being a communist. The criticisms soon died down, and in 2007, it was ranked tenth on the "List of America's Favorite Architecture" by the American Institute of Architects.

Names Are Still Being Added To The Memorial When the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was first dedicated, Lin’s wall contained the names of 57,939 American servicemen believed to have lost their lives in the Vietnam War. As of September 2020, there are now 58,279 names on the wall. In order to be added, a deceased soldier must meet specific U.S. Department of Defense criteria. Furthermore, over 100 names have been identified as misspelled. In some cases, the correction could be done in place. In others, the name had to be chiseled again elsewhere, moving them out of chronological order.

Offerings Are Left At The Memorial Almost Every Day Thousands of offerings have been intentionally left at the memorial since it opened, including letters, military medals, dog tags, and photographs. Sometimes these are substantial (a motorcycle was once left at the wall). The National Park Service collects these items every day and sends them to a storage facility in Maryland where they are cataloged. Though that facility is not open to the public, certain memorial artifacts are put on view as part of traveling exhibits.