The Wall, which quickly became one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions, spawned a national “urge to install reminders of the past,” wrote architectural critic Jane Holtz Kay in The New York Times in March 1989. The “memorialization of America,” as Kay put it, included tributes in granite and bronze to musicians, writers, athletes, politicians, astronauts, and other revered figures.
It also included an explosion of memorials built to honor Vietnam veterans. “I came back from [the Wall’s dedication in 1982] dedicated to putting up a memorial to our area service people,” former VVA Chapter 79 president Ned Foote told The VVA Veteran. As was the case in many areas of the country, Foote and other VVA members were instrumental in conceiving, funding, and building a memorial-in this case, the Adirondack Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which was dedicated at the Adirondack Community College in Glens Falls, New York, on November 2, 1986. Foote echoes the sentiments of many of those involved in building memorials when he says the dedication of his local memorial was “the most moving experience of our lives.”
A survey released in November 1986 by the I Project on the Vietnam a Generation uncovered 126 memorials to Vietnam veterans. The survey found that 27 of the
memorials were put up before the Wall was dedicated; 61 were built in the three years after the Wall’s dedication; and 38 were scheduled to be built. Today, more than seven years since that survey came out, scores of other memorials have been dedicated.
It would take several issues of this newspaper to describe the hundreds of memorials to Vietnam veterans that have gone up in the last 11 years. So what follows is a brief, selective look at some state and local efforts, many of which have involved the active participation of VVA members.
You can find memorials to Vietnam veterans in all fifty states. There are eleven in Idaho alone, including the Vietnam POW/MIA Memorial, a sculpted bronze eagle dedicated July 4, 1976. State memorials are in place or in the planning stages in nearly all the states. Ground-breaking for one of the latest, Hawaii’s state memorial for veterans of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, took place July 27, 1993, at the Hawaiian State Capitol. What will be one of the most ambitious state memorials-the $5.6 million New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Holmdel- will be dedicated on Veterans Day 1994.
Perhaps the most celebrated state memorial is California’s imposing, 3,750-square-foot state edifice that was dedicated December 10, 1988, across from the State Capitol Building in Sacramento. A group of veterans, spearheaded by double-amputee Herman Woods, came up with the idea for this memorial in 1983. The state legislature provided the land, and $2.2 million was raised from the public.
The California Vietnam Veterans Memorial, designed by Michael Larson (a Marine Vietnam veteran) and Thomas Chytrowski, is multifaceted: Its main feature is the listing of the names and hometowns of 5.822 servicemen and women killed or missing in action in Vietnam. A series of bronze reliefs line the inner walls of the memorial, which is configured in the shape of broken concentric circles. Inside is a bronze figure of a combat soldier sitting on his helmet, cradling an M-16, and looking up from a letter he is reading.
The imaginative Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial-a 24-foot giant sundial whose shadow falls on the engraved names of the 1,065 Kentuckians who died in Vietnam on the anniversary of their deaths-has become one of the state’s most visited landmarks since it was dedicated on Veterans Day 1988. Designed by Helm Roberts, the monument is located a block from the State Capitol building in Frankfort. In front of the sundial, where the shadow does not fall, are listed the names of 22 Kentucky MIAs.
The Oregon State Living Memorial is located in Portland on the grounds of the 12-acre Hoyt Arboretum in the shadow of Mount Hood in Portland. Dedicated on
Veterans Day 1987, the memorial consists of a winding walkway along which are scattered five alcoves representing different periods of the war. Besides listing the names of the Oregonians who died in Vietnam, the panels also tell stories of life in the state during each period. The memorial includes spacious lawns, a central outdoor room, and a final alcove listing the names of 40 Oregon-born MIAs.
Perhaps the most famous of the hundreds of city Welding helmet memorials is the 70-foot-long, 16-foot-high, New York Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a translucent glass block structure containing etched excerpts from 83 letters written by or sent to soldiers in Vietnam. The half-million-dollar memorial, built with private funds, sits near the southern tip of Manhattan Island. It was dedicated during two days of ceremonial events. May 6 and 7, 1985, that included a ticker-tape parade honoring Vietnam veterans.
As part of its fund-raising activities, the New York Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission, which was set up in 1982, published Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam (Norton, 1985). That book was the basis for the memorable, award-winning documentary film of the same name that appeared in 1988 on Home Box Office and in movie theaters around the country. Part of the proceeds from that film went to the NY Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission.
Another noteworthy city memorial sits in front of the San Antonio, Texas, Municipal Auditorium, not far from the Alamo. The memorial, known as Hill 881, was dedicated on Veterans Day 1986. It honors the memory of the Americans who perished in a vicious battle for that piece of real estate in April 1967. The imposing, five-ton bronze statue of a soldier ministering to a severely wounded buddy at the memorial’s center is the work of former Marine combat artist Austin Deuel, who was a first-hand witness to the bloody battle.