On your next Washington DC School trip see the Vietnam Memorial.
This memorial holds a special place here in DC on the Mall.
The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial serves as a testament to the sacrifice of American military personnel during one of this nation’s least popular wars. It was an important chapter to help heal the wound between the military and the american people.
The Vietnam war was a different war. Do you know what made it different?
It was a war of choice. When we fought in Europe it was a war of necessity. In the sixties we were in the ‘cold war’. After WWII, the Soviet Union and their allies pitted against the US and our allies. The war in Vietnam was based on what was called “The Domino Theory.” It states if one domino falls (one country falls to communism) all of the other dominoes (the countries) would follow.
North Vietnam had fallen to communism and so it was seen as important to protect south Vietnam from this same fate.
And so we sent our young soldiers to South East Asia. As it was a war of choice we also had a draft. Do you know what that is?
The draft came to an end when the United States Armed Forces moved to an all-volunteer military force. However, the Selective Service System remains in place as a contingency plan; all male civilians between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to register so that a draft can be readily resumed if needed.
What was also different about this war? Today when we see soldiers we go to them and thank them for their service. But they weren’t always treated this way.
The Vietnam War was the first televised war. For the first time, the drama of war, the killing and violence, was being broadcasted and accessible to Americans all over. And so America spurned returning veterans. The soldiers sent to fight in Vietnam came back in a different political context - they were not seen as heroes defending their country- rather as political pawns and killers.
After the war, efforts were made to heal the wound between the soldiers and American society.
Jan Scruggs was a United States Army veteran who served in the war, and later founded the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which built the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
A commission was put out and blind designs could be submitted. Out of 1,421 entries, Maya Ying Lin, a 19 year old Yale University architect student, won.
She originally designed the memorial for a college course requirement. Lin received only a B grade for the assignment, and her professor even advised her not to submit anything. Not all were pleased with its abstract design, and Lin faced some racial and sexist prejudice for being a third generation Asian-American (from Indiana) , and a woman.
We’ve talked a lot about symbols. Here there are at least 2 important ones to notice. The memorial is in the shape of a chevron. Where do you see this? It is the shape of a military rank insignia. If you have one you are a corporal, 2 a private and three a sergeant.
90% of those whose names are on the wall were of that rank. A very powerful and discrete symbol.
There are 58,320 names, including eight women, inscribed on the memorial.
Next to each name is a marking. A cross means the soldier was missing in action. A diamond means the soldier was killed in action. A cross with a diamond superimposed over it means that the soldier remains have been returned or otherwise accounted for.
Another powerful symbol is your experience with the memorial. You slowly go down into the memorial your are below ground, symbolizing the death of the soldiers. As you continue out of the memorial you come into the daylight again meaning there is life continues and their sacrifice was not in vain.
Veterans and their families leave small and large tokens of remembrance at the site of a friend or loved one’s name. Flowers, soft toys, poems pictures and other personal items are found all along the black walls. much of the memorabilia can be seen at the National Museum of American History.
This is a very special place. Over 4,000,000 people visit here each year. Such a monument, memorial has shown how important a role they do play. We come here, as others, to reflect and take a moment to honor their sacrifice. I invite you to treat this place as hallowed ground. Like a cemetery. Please show it the dignity and respect I know you can. Show the example to others around you.
Make sure on your next Washington DC School trip you see the Vietnam Memorial