One of the first was built in 1971 by a bereaved father on his
own land, with his own funds, in a windswept valley deep in
the mountains of northern New Mexico. The most famous was
built in 1982 by a determined group of Vietnam veterans and
their supporters on a 2.2-acre tract donated by the United
States Congress in "the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial in the
nation's capital. Hundreds of others-at least 500-have been
built in state capitals, county seats, on city squares, town
plazas, military bases, and college campuses in all 50 states,
on Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and in several
We are talking, of course, about
memorials to those- living and dead-who served in Vietnam,
another noteworthy chapter in the legacy of the nation's
longest and most controversial overseas war. When, how, and
why America came to honor those who served in Vietnam is an
instructive part of the ongoing saga of the impact of the
Vietnam War on American society.
It is not widely known, but Americans
publicly remembered those who served in Vietnam while the war
was still being fought. In the summer of 1966, for example,
the city of Chicago officially named a 10.5-acre park on Lake
Michigan for a local hero: 18-year-old Army Pfc. Milton Lee
Olive III, a Medal of Honor winner who died in Vietnam in
1965. The city subsequently named a junior college and a
portion of the mammoth McCormick Place Convention Center in
honor of the former 173rd Airborne trooper who lost his life
smothering a grenade in what Olive's platoon commander called
"the most incredible display of selfless bravery I ever
Other early efforts include the Veterans
Day 1966 dedication of a memorial in Grass Valley, California,
to honor Gary Ames Miller, a local Marine who died in the war.
That memorial, consisting of a plaque set in a round core of
hard rock, is dedicated to Miller and to all Vietnam veterans.
In December 1967, the citizens of Wentzville, a small town in
eastern Missouri, strung a 30-foot tree with lights to honor
the town's military men serving in Vietnam.
On September 15,1968, when it came time
to name its new football stadium, Dunedin High School in
Florida choose to honor 13 former students killed in the war.
Dunedin H.S. Memorial Stadium was dedicated that day with
marble plaques engraved with the 13 names. Before the war was
over, nine more names were added.
An engraved stone dedicated November 11,
1968, at Maynard Evans High School in Orlando, Florida, honors
18 men from Maynard who died in Vietnam. A simple gravestone,
inscribed "Died for Their Country," was placed in front of
Maryland's North Carroll High School in 1971 to honor four
graduates who died in the war.
One of the first of dozens of on-base
military memorials honoring Vietnam veterans became a reality
on May 29, 1968, when Florida's Eglin Air Force Base dedicated
the 23-acre Memorial Lake to USAF personnel killed in the war.
In 1969, the Algoma Optimist Club in Algoma, Wisconsin, put up
a brick monument and flagstaff at the intersection of two
state highways and dedicated the structure to that town's
residents who served in Vietnam.
The most famous of the early Vietnam
veterans memorials, at Angel Fire, New Mexico, was christened
the Vietnam Veterans Peace and Brotherhood Chapel by Dr.
Victor Westphall, who built it with family funds on family
property in 1971 as a tribute to his son, Marine lieutenant
Victor David Westphall III, killed in Vietnam in 1968. Now
known as the DAV Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Angel Fire's
gleaming, white-winged chapel sits on a hill in the shadow of
13,000-foot Wheeler Peak. Also on the site is a modem,
6,000-square-foot visitors center housing a large display of
war memorabilia, a small library, and an audio-visual display
about the monument. Dr. Westphall, now 79, lives on the
In 1971, Westphall was turned down when
he went to his state and local governments for help with a
memorial to Vietnam veterans. He was not alone. One of the
many unfortunate consequences of the divisive national debate
over the Vietnam War was the nation's general
indifference-mixed with hostility- toward those who took part
in the fighting. As all Vietnam veterans know, that woeful
state of affairs lasted until the early 1980s.
Novelist Philip Caputo expressed the
feelings of many veterans in the form of a cri de coeur to his
friend, Lt. Walter Neville Levy, a fellow Marine who was
killed in Vietnam in September 1965. "As I write this 11 years
after your death, the country for which you died wishes to
forget the war in which you died," Caputo wrote in his
memorable 1977 memoir, A Rumor of War. "Its very name is a
curse. There are no monuments to its heroes, no statues in
small-town squares and city parks, no plaques, nor public
wreaths, nor memorials. For plaques and wreaths and memorials
are reminders, and they would make it harder for your country
to sink into the amnesia for which it longs. It wishes to
forget, and it has forgotten."
The amnesia began to lift in the early
1980s. The prime catalyst for the change-in which the nation
began in earnest to separate the warrior from the war-was the
overwhelmingly positive reception the nation gave to the
American hostages who returned from Iran in January 1981. The
national embrace of those hostages caused many Americans to
reexamine their less-than-accepting views of Americans who
served in Vietnam.
Two months later, the American Legion
finally got around to honoring Vietnam veterans. At March
16,1981, ceremonies at Arlington National Ceremony, the
Legion's national commander presented the organization's
highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal, to those who
died in Vietnam. That event marked the first time any of the
nation's big, old-line veterans organizations officially
recognized those who served in Vietnam.
Six months later, on Veterans Day 1981,
residents of South Boston dedicated a black stone monument
bearing the names of the 25 men from that blue-collar
neighborhood who were killed in the war. The dedication was
officially recognized by President Reagan and by all five
branches of the military-another first.
A handful of state and local memorials
went up in 1982. Then, on Veterans Day of that year, came the
dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial-the Wall-on the
Mall in Washington, DC. The memorial's widely publicized
dedication, which took place during an emotional, five-day
"National Salute to Vietnam Veterans," served to heal wounds
of the war and to enhance the image of Vietnam veterans.
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
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
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 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
Originally, they called it the Vietnam
Veterans Memorial (Mobile). It is now known as the Moving
Wall: A portable, half-size replica of the original Wall. The
traveling version was first displayed in Texas in 1984, and
since then, it has made stops in more than 200 cities across
the country. There are also at least two state moving walls in
Alabama and Ohio.
The original Moving Wall was built in
1983 by three California Vietnam veterans-John Devitt, Gerry
Haver, and Morris Shears. "I wanted everyone to see those
names on the wall," said Devitt, a former First Cav helicopter
door gunner who now spends his time transporting the Moving
Wall around the nation.
Devitt and company secured permission
from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation in Washington to
construct their wall using the original blueprints. For
portability purposes, the wall is built of aluminum. But its
shiny enamel paint and raised letters closely emulate the
original. "It was important that the letters be raised,"
Devitt said. "It gives people the opportunity to touch the
names, to feel the names."
The Moving Wall generates the same types
of response that the original wall does. Thousands come to pay
their respects, and dozens of volunteers stand guard to help
visitors locate names. Many leave mementos at the Moving Wall,
all of which are collected and stored in a California
warehouse. Although Devitt and company built a replica a
couple of years ago, the wall's itinerary is booked solid. For
information, write to: Vietnam Combat Veterans, Inc., Attn:
Memorial Fund, 1267 Alma Ct., San Jose, CA 95112.
Like the original Wall and the traveling
replica, nearly all state and local memorials honor Vietnam
veterans by listing the names of those killed and missing and
by representing their service with words or statues. But some
memorials are in different forms, for example, longtime VVA
member Geoffrey Steiner's herculean effort to plant the
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Forest on a 100-acre parcel of land
he owns in Cushing, Minnesota, about 120 miles north of
Steiner, who did a 1967-68 tour with the
Marines, started on his goal of planting a tree for each
American who died in Vietnam in 1980. He has personally
planted more than 30,000 trees, and his once-lonely effort has
now been officially recognized by the state of Minnesota.
Steiner has received aid from the fund-raising efforts of
several VVA chapters. A member of Chapter 214, Steiner has
served as Minnesota's VVA chaplain. He says he purposely chose
not to work with stone or sculpture. "What we're trying to do
is heal the people," he told a reporter. "This is a living
Since 1989, VVA Chapter 392 in Portland,
Oregon, has been actively involved in another massive
tree-planting endeavor-planting 60,000 trees throughout Oregon
to memorialize those who died in Vietnam. More than half the
trees-which are being donated by the state Department of
Forestry-are in place. Chapter 392's partners in the effort
are the Lions International of Oregon and ReTree
International, a big timber company whose president,
octogenarian Frank Lockyear, conceived the idea of a memorial
The North Carolina Vietnam Veterans
Highway Memorial also uses living trees to honor those who
lost their lives in Vietnam. Dedicated on Memorial Day 1991,
the memorial features 58,000 loblolly pines that were planted
along a 12-mile stretch of Interstate 85 in Davidson County,
between Lexington and Greensboro. The trees also encircle the
highway memorial's centerpiece, a brick wall nearly one
hundred feet long and eight feet high. Each of the wall's
1,600 bricks is engraved with the name of a North Carolinian
who died in Vietnam.
The Tar Heel State also has a more
traditional Vietnam veterans memorial in Raleigh, the state
capital. Dedicated on Memorial Day 1987, it consists of a
large, bronze sculpture of two combat infantrymen carrying a
wounded buddy and bronze plaques dedicated to the state's
Several other states have used roads to
honor Vietnam veterans. Delaware's I-495, for example, is
officially known as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway, and
Vermont's I-89 shares the same name. On October 20, 1982,
Vermont officials dedicated a 12-foot-high granite monument in
an I-89 rest area near the town of Sharon. The memorial lists
the names of the 138 Vermont men killed in the war.
During the war, on May 31, 1969, local
officials in Evansville, Indiana, and in Henderson, Kentucky,
renamed the twin bridges that connect their cities to honor
those killed in the war. The spans are officially called the
Bi-state Vietnam Gold Star Memorial Bridges.
On May 30,1993, Baltimore mayor Kurt
Schmoke cut a ribbon and officially renamed the city's heavily
traveled Hanover Street Bridge the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Bridge. That historic event-the first time in the city's long
history that a bridge was renamed to honor an individual or
group-was attended by more than 2,000 people, including 40
Gold Star mothers, 20 color guards from a half dozen veterans
organizations (including seven Maryland VVA chapters), an Army
National Guard band, and reporters from the city's four TV
stations. The dedication capped months of hard work by the
members of VVA Chapter 451 in Maryland's largest city.
Chapter member Ed Vogel conceived of the
idea of renaming the bridge while it was being renovated in
1992. "That way, the bridge could serve as a gateway to the
Maryland Vietnam Veterans Memorial," which was dedicated in
1989 across the Patapsco River from downtown Baltimore,
chapter president John Averella told The VVA Veteran. Vogel
chaired a 15-member bridge dedication committee that convinced
the City Council to rename the bridge. The committee raised
$9,000 to pay for new highway signs, two large brass plaques,
and the big dedication-day ceremonies. "From a single idea six
months earlier, to an event that we will remember for a
lifetime, all this was made possible by members of our chapter
and the support of their families," Averella said.
Most people associate the nation's
college campuses with antiwar activity. While many colleges
and universities were indeed centers of antiwar ferment, it is
also true that tens of thousands of graduates from those same
campuses served in Vietnam. A few of the nation's colleges
have honored their alumni who gave their lives in Vietnam with
On Memorial Day 1986, the University of
Kansas (UK) dedicated the first free-standing Vietnam memorial
on a major non-military college campus. The University of
Kansas Vietnam Memorial is a 65-foot-long, L-shaped,
limestone-and-concrete structure that lists the names of 55 UK
alumni who died or are listed as missing, in Vietnam. It is
inscribed with these words: "Lest we forget the courage,
honor, and sacrifice of our fellow students."
UK administrator and history instructor
(and VVA member) Tom Berger, a former Navy corpsman who served
with the Marines in 1966-68, spearheaded the effort to build
the memorial with fellow veteran John Musgrave. Their efforts
were aided greatly by the university's student council, which
conceived the idea and raised $10,000 for its construction.
Another fund-raising boost came after UK grad Jim Lehrer sent
a "McNeil/Lehrer News Hour" team to the campus. A segment on
the memorial that ran on the popular PBS-TV show "really
helped fund-raising," Berger told The WA Veteran. "The
exposure helped a great deal."
The Jayhawk State leads the nation in
on-campus Vietnam veterans memorials. Besides the UK memorial,
there are free-standing tributes to Vietnam veterans at
Washburn University in Topeka and at Kansas State University
(KSU) in Manhattan. The Kansas State Vietnam Veterans
Memorial, dedicated on November 10,
1989, was built with private donations, and it sits near the
KSU World War II and Korean memorial on campus. Inscribed on
circular limestone block walls are the names of 42 former
K-staters who died in the war.
VVA member Bill Arck of Chapter 344, who
served in the Air Force, led the effort to build the memorial.
Arck, who directs KSU's Alcohol and Drug Education Service,
received plenty of help, including support from KSU's Air
Force ROTC. The project "was, at times, a controversial issue
on campus," Arck told The VVA Veteran. But all controversy
ended when the memorial was completed, and it is, Arck
proclaims, "one of those things in my life I am most proud."
On June 11, 1993, Cornell University,
Ithaca, New York, dedicated a memorial to its alumni who died
in Vietnam. The memorial, a metal plaque with the names of the
dead (including 27 from Vietnam), sits in Anabel Taylor Hall,
the university's chapel, along with memorials to Comell alumni
who died in other wars. That memorial also consists of a
$100,000 scholarship fund for children of Vietnam veterans.
Among the many military college memorials
is the Marion Military Institute Alumni Vietnam Veterans
Memorial, dedicated November 10, 1989. The stone monument
lists the names of 21 students of the Alabama junior college
who died in Vietnam, and it was built with the support of VVA
members throughout the state.
VVA members in northern New Jersey helped
the students at Passaic County Technical and Vocational High
School in Wayne. The students designed, raised funds, and
helped build the county's Vietnam veterans memorial, which
sits at the school's entrance. The memorial, dedicated in
1992, honors the 82 county men who died in Vietnam.
VVA chapters have been instrumental in
helping build memorials in at least two prisons: The Muskegon
Correctional Facility in Michigan and the Roxbury Correctional
Institution in Maryland.
Chapter 31 took the lead in soliciting
funds, materials, and labor, and it donated the flag that
flies over the Muskegon County Vietnam Veterans Memorial,
which was dedicated September 7, 1986, inside the correctional
facility. The memorial consists of two brick walls in a
V-shape and lists the names of county men who were killed or
VVA Chapter 172 in Cumberland, Maryland,
donated the plaque that is the centerpiece of the Roxbury
memorial-an oval brick structure with four flags, including
the POW/MIA banner. "It's not so much a memorial to the dead
as a tribute to the ones still alive," said John Worsham, a
Vietnam veteran serving a life sentence who led the memorial
effort at Roxbury.
VVA's California State Council is
supporting a proposed veterans memorial scheduled to be built
at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi. The
memorial, for which ground was broken last November, will
honor men and women veterans from all wars.
Memorials to American Vietnam veterans,
erected on foreign soil, are primarily on U.S. military bases.
In June 1977, the Freedom Tree was planted at Ramstein Air
Force Base in Germany to honor those missing in action in
Vietnam, dark Air Force Base in the Philippines has a Peace
Garden, dedicated to KIAs and POWs. Memorials honoring those
who fought with the United States also stand in Australia,
Canada, and New Zealand.
The most recent is the National Vietnam
Memorial that was dedicated October 3, 1992, in Canberra,
Australia. At the invitation of the Australian government,
several hundred American Vietnam veterans marched in a parade
and took part in the dedication ceremonies.
The first Canadian Vietnam veterans
memorial is scheduled to be dedicated this fall in
Melocheville, Quebec. The memorial, a landscaped park and
monument, honors the roughly 30,000 Canadians who served in
Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
On Veterans Day 1993, the national media,
zeroed in on the long-awaited dedication of the Vietnam
Women's Memorial on the grounds of the Vietnam Veterans
Memorial in Washington. Sculptor Glenna Goodacre's
2,000-pound, six-foot-eight-inch bronze sculpture of three
uniformed women tending a wounded male GI now sits in a grove
of trees 300 feet southeast of the Wall, overlooking the
The women's memorial, which received
longtime support from VVA-honors the more than 11,000 women
who served in Vietnam. That includes eight women- Eleanor
Grace Alexander, Pamela Dorothy Donovan, Carol Ann Drazba,
Annie Ruth Graham, Elizabeth A. Jones, Mary T. Klinker, Sharon
Anne Lane, and Hedwig Diane Orlowski-who died in Vietnam and
whose names are engraved on the Wall.
In 1967, a year after Carol Drazba died
in a helicopter crash, officials at Scranton State General
Hospital put up a bronze plaque in the facility's main lobby
to honor the former Army lieutenant.
Six years later, on Memorial Day 1973,
the people of Canton, Ohio, dedicated a life-size statue of
Storon Lane, the first American servicewoman who died as a
result of enemy action in Vietnam. Lieutenant Lane, an Army
nurse, was killed during a rocket attack at the 312th Evac
Hospital in Chu Lai on June 8, 1969. The Sharon A. Lane
Memorial at Aultman Hospital (her nursing school alma mater)
contains the inscription: "Born to Honor-Ever at Peace," and
includes the names of 109 local men killed in Vietnam.
Author's Note: Much of the material for
this article was provided by WA members, many of whom have
taken leadership roles in. building state and local Vietnam
Other important sources include: Vietnam
War Memorials: An Illustrated Reference to Veterans Tributes
Throughout the United States (1988) by Jerry' L. Strait and
Sandra S. Strait; "Report on the Survey of State and Local
Vietnam Veterans Memorials Nationwide," November 11, 1986,
published by the Project on the Vietnam Generation; "State
Honor: Vietnam Memorials Guide," a survey of state memorials
published in the Reserve Officers Association's The Officer
(November 1991); and "Handbook on Vietnam Veterans Memorials,"
published in 1987 by the Friends of the Vietnam Veterans