Today In History: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Is Dedicated

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Today in 1932, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. The dedication happened at the end of a weeklong national tribute to American veterans of the Vietnam War. Thousands of vets marched to the v-shaped, black granite wall. The wall bears inscriptions of the names of 57,939 American troops who died in the war. Their names are arranged by order of death, not by rank, as is standard practice in other veteran’s memorials.

The memorial was designed by Maya Lin. Lin was an architecture student at Yale University whose idea for the wall won a national design competition. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she was born in Ohio in 1959. The unorthodox memorial was a source of hot controversy when it was first chosen.

Critics disliked the memorial’s lack of statues or quotes. After the dedication, however, American public opinion shifted in favor of the design.

Visitors, once they found the name of their fallen loved one, can make an etching of the name or leave a tribute at the wall. Some people leave notes, others flowers or dog tags, and some people even leave unopened beers.

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The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is one of the most heavily-trafficked memorials in all of Washington, D.C. While it may have been controversial at the time of its dedication, it is now an accepted feature of our civic landscape. A director at the Smithsonian Institution referred to the wall as “a community of feelings, almost a sacred precinct.”

One veteran said that the Memorial is “the parade we never got.” The wall is sometimes credited with helping bridge the divide between Vietnam veterans and Vietnam protesters after the war’s close.

There are other Vietnam Veterans Memorials in America, based on the design of the wall in D.C. The “Wall South” is located at 200 S. 9th Ave in Pensacola, Florida. It’s the first replica of the National Vietnam Memorial that was put on permanent display. It was dedicated on October 24, 1992. It’s about half the size of the original wall.

The Wall South is updated every Mother’s Day. It bears the names of all the Americans who were killed or M.I.A. in Southeast Asia during the war. It’s part of the Veterans Memorial Park Pensacola, a 5.5 acre site that overlooks Pensacola Bay. The Memorial Park also features memorials for World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Revolutionary War.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. remains one of the most important monuments in the country.

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