by Jan Scruggs
As you readers may know, I started what is now known as The Wall. The wall gets 5 million visitors a year, according to the National Park Service. The idea was not complex. We would get a site and build a memorial engraved with the names of “..the men and women of the United States of America who served in the Vietnam War…The names of the fallen are engraved in the order that they were taken from us” (inscription on the East Wall of the Memorial…).
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It all turned out to be complex and was riddled with controversy over the stark design, which could not be appreciated until it was built. We had allies in the Reagan Administration, as did our opponents. Our team had some bright political operatives and, somehow, we get the construction permit thanks to the efforts of an Army Captain, Tom Shull, who huffed and puffed and came back with a permit allowing us to break ground in March 1982. The Wall was dedicated in November 1982. It was a minor miracle.
I led the effort as Founder and CEO of VVMF, retiring in 2015. I was not a highly motivated soldier but was decorated for valor and managed to return from Vietnam with a dozen pieces of shrapnel in my body. I was a SP 4 and spent most of my time awaiting Fire Missions for a 81 MM mortar. I spent 19 months on active duty. I was also an Infantryman when needed.
The impact of the VietVetsMemorial is vast including bringing about other memorials to Viet Vets in every state and many major cities, like Manhattan aka New York City and Sacramento, California. There also have been more 1/2 and 3/4 scale replicas manufactured than I can count.
The first replica was by John Devitt, a combat veteran of Vietnam. (Vietnam Combat Veterans). The biggest and best is one I created in the early 1990s known as The Wall That Heals, which has a traveling museum which, last I heard, included my combat boots from Nam and a pair of Ho Chi Minh sandals I found after a skirmish with North Vietnamese troops in 1970 near Xian Loc. I grabbed two frags and a bandolier of ammo, but the enemy retreated. Anyway, I got the nice sandals. With only had two weeks left in Nam, it was a pretty cool souvenir.
There is no place in America quite as unusual / unique as the Vietnam Vets Memorial, which includes the well done statues on the site. How many items have been left at The Wall and the statues? Some say 500,000 items consisting of tributes to the individual US troops have been placed there. There are regularly combat boots left there and dog tags. This dramatic interaction between the living and the dead has been studied by academicians and written about in books and magazine articles.
There is no anthropological or psychological precedent for the impact of this Memorial. The Wall is a place to heal and a place to pay tribute to those who served. That was my goal in 1979. I had no idea of the complexities and controversies that would emerge. Somehow we accomplished the impossible.
When you get to Washington DC be sure to drop by and experience this great work of art honoring Vietnam Veterans. This place is also engraved with the Names of The Fallen as a special tribute.
They will never be forgotten. Ask any of the five million annual visitors if they remember the Memorial.
A key advisor to me in 1981 and 1982 was General William Westmoreland who said, “ When the soldiers came back from Vietnam, there were no parades, no celebrations. So they built the Vietnam Memorial for themselves!”
Westy was right. We who served in Vietnam built our own Memorial!
Jan Scruggs serves on the Soldier of Fortune Advisory Committee.