The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

Special Commemorative Issue, November 2002
   

 

To Realize A Dream,
Many Lent Their Skills, Time, And Commitment

BY BERNARD EDELMAN


Unless we came home on a gurney, most of us who served in Southeast Asia returned to The World alone, as individuals, our 12- or 13-month tour of duty completed. We were in the jungles or rice paddies or firebases one day, back on the streets of Boston or Brooklyn, Baton Rouge or Bakersfield, 48 hours later. We left behind our buddies, with whom we had spent the most intense times of our lives. For us, the war was over; for them, the fighting, the bleeding, and the dying went on.

None of us was accorded a welcome home into the bosom of a grateful nation. How could we have been? Despite the battles won, despite me drumbeat of invariably favorable body counts by generals and overly optimistic pronouncements by cabinet secretaries and presidents, in a war marked by an absence of victory the only embraces most of us received were from our families, some neighbors, a few close friends. Mom and Dad were thrilled to have us home and safe. They didn't ask many questions, though, and were perplexed that we didn't relate to Dad, who had served in the Battle of the Bulge, or Uncle Mike, who had frozen at Chosin.

When the fighting finally ceased, when America succeeded in extricating its forces from Vietnam, most Americans wanted to forget the war had ever happened. In me process, a nation hungry for heroes ignored those who had fought. Any acknowledgment of service rendered to country-not to mention real acts of heroism on the field of battle- fell by the wayside; In the eyes of many, those who had done their nation's bidding were pariahs.

The unfortunate stereotype of the whacked-out Vietnam vets-as-victims or dysfunctional baby killers warped by what they had seen and done in Southeast Asia, emerged and gained prominence in the media. Stereotypes, of course, are based on a thin sliver of reality. But this reality blasphemed almost all who had served. The vast majority had served honorably and well. Many served with distinction. We returned home, married, raised the next generation, went to work, contributed to the community. Yes, many suffered the emotional scars of war, exacerbated by the lack of thanks from a nation grown increasingly restive and weary of a war gone on too long without resolution; and many suffered as well from a bureaucracy that had to be dragged kicking and screaming (or so it seemed) to acknowledge these scars.

Many veterans, though, were ashamed even to admit that they had served. While some questioned the war, all of us knew we were just as worthy, had fought just as bravely as had our fathers and uncles and grandfathers before us, had done our individual and collective best under difficult and trying circumstances. We also knew, in a country torn asunder by me politics of me war, that the only recognition we would get we'd have to give ourselves.

Some, like Bobby Muller and his colleagues who founded VVA, chose to focus on fighting the good fight for better benefits, for recognition of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and diseases caused by exposure to Agent Orange as compensable conditions borne of service in Southeast Asia. As Lynda Van Devanter, who was VVA's first national women's director, put it: "Our primary purpose was to reach out to Vietnam veterans and insure that the federal government meet its mandate to provide appropriate support systems for vets with service-connected injuries or needs."

Others sought recognition for me valor and me sacrifices made by Vietnam veterans.

One of them, Jan Scruggs, had served as a rifleman with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade in I Corps in '67-'68. Scruggs, who was hit by shrapnel from a grenade, is duly credited as the initiator, the moving force, the passionate gadfly behind the effort to create and build a memorial honoring those who answered their country's call and paying tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice or remained missing in action.

Scruggs was not the only player on the court. Several others played notable roles as well. On the twentieth anniversary of me dedication of The Wall, it is fitting and timely to recognize those who toiled long and hard to create this memorial. What they succeeded in achieving, despite the naysayers, became an instant icon, a place of healing, of reconciliation, a place where grown men cry without embarrassment.

Any naming of names, of course, has the potential to offend through omission. In To Heal a Nation, Jan Scruggs and co-author Joel Swerdlow offer a "Roll Call of Honor," a roster of "unselfish people who gave of their time and talent to insure that the names of over 58,000 Americans would be in a place of honor." There were some, though, who played core roles in creating The Wall, as well as several matchmakers, conciliators, and catalysts who played critical roles at different times during the process.

If Scruggs was the dreamer of the dream, two of his first converts, Bob Doubek and Jack Wheeler, were its enablers. They were, Doubek notes, a threesome from very different backgrounds: Scruggs from Scotch-Irish tenant-farmer stock; Doubek, the grandson of Czech immigrants; and Wheeler with roots in America dating back to before the United States was born.

Doubek, who served as an Air Force intelligence officer in Vietnam, came to Washington in 1971 to attend law school at Georgetown. There, he recalls, "I felt a sense of denigration from the 'best and the brightest.' When the Vietnam War was mentioned, if it was mentioned at all, it was that you were a loser to have been caught in that trap."

"But some of the best people I've met in my life" he says, "I met in Vietnam. They had a quality of character born of their experiences in the war zone."

Bob Doubek felt that Vietnam veterans needed and deserved to be recognized for their service. At an April 1979 meeting at which Jan Scruggs shared his vision of a memorial containing the names of those who had been lost to the war, Doubek was the only one who bought into the concept He took Scruggs on-"on a halfway pro bono basis"-and incorporated the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity. He quickly realized "what a gargantuan undertaking this project would be. We had to raise funds, find people to lend their time and talents, get a site. The depth of the challenge was enormous."

Doubek became the first paid employee once the VVMF had funds. He took a significant pay cut to become its executive director, its detail man, its consensus builder.

When Jack Wheeler first heard of the dream, he instinctively knew that it was a really strong idea. "It can be done" he told Scruggs. "Let me call some people." What was needed, he knew, was the commitment of "guys who had served in Vietnam who were in positions of influence."

He was a graduate of West Point, Yale Law School, and Harvard Business School. Although he had established a memorial at West Point to those who had served in Southeast Asia-"It was a good practice drill for the national memorial," he says-Wheeler was disturbed by the national amnesia over the Vietnam War. "We wanted to show the integrity of our experience,' he says. "And we, a group of rookies, got together, raised the money, ran the design competition, built the memorial, and gave it to the country."

Wheeler, who served as chairman of the VVMF's board of directors, is widely credited for his political savvy and managerial know how. "He was the lead tank," says Tom Shull, a White House aide who worked closely with him. "He made extraordinary personal sacrifices" to realize the dream.

Wheeler went on to design the model for the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program and became the first director of the VVLP in the Reagan administration. He wrote the book, Touched with Fire: The Future of the Vietnam Generation. He currently serves as president of the Vietnam Children's Fund and uses his expertise to turn around troubled charities.

Sandie Fauriol, who directed the fund-raising effort for the WMF, came to the role almost serendipitously. "Bob Doubek asked a friend to recommend a fundraiser," she recounts. " 'I only know one: Sandie Fauriol,' the friend replied." And Fauriol, an Army brat, won the job.

"I was just a shepherd doing God's work," she says. She was more than a shepherd, though. She directed, Scruggs writes in To Heal a Nation, "a flawless, creative, and unquestionably successful campaign." She also took the reins of the five-day National Salute to Vietnam Veterans, during which The Wall was dedicated.

"I used to go around with Jan," Fauriol says. "He would tell the stories and cite the need for the memorial and then I would do the asking." She recalls traveling to Texas without Jan to make a presentation before the director of the Houston Endowment. "The man never blinked or moved a muscle throughout my presentation. When I asked him to consider a donation of $7,062- that's $22 for each of the 321 Houstonians who died in Vietnam-he said simply, 'I'll consider it.' Two weeks later, a very thin envelope arrived. In it was a check from him for $50,000 in honor of your efforts for all Vietnam veterans.'"

In no small part because of Fauriol's efforts, the VVMF raised some $9 million from more than 600,000 individuals. She is quick to heap praise on others, particularly Paul Thayer, then chairman of LTV Corporation in Dallas, who chaired the fund's corporate advisory board. Scruggs adds Karen Kendig Doubek-she and Bob Doubek met and married while working with the VVMF- who did yeoman work as assistant campaign director and later as deputy director of the National Salute to Vietnam Veterans.

Among other key staffers: Col. Don Schaet, USMC (Ret), served as the VVMF's first executive vice president; Col. Bob Carter, USAF (Ret), became the fund's executive vice president in April 1982. Kathie Kielich served as the fund's administrative aide.

Jack Wheeler, says Doubek, "brought in all these top-notch guys" who played vital roles as the project took form and gained substance. Other volunteers showed up, rolled up their sleeves, and worked. Among them are:

  • Bob Frank, a certified public accountant, served as the VVMF's treasurer, a post to which he brought an extraordinary business talent, as Scruggs noted in To Heal a Nation.

  • Ron Gibbs, who served as an Army captain in Vietnam, played many roles in achieving passage of the enabling legislation, in fund-raising, and on the design competition.

  • George ("Sandy") Mayo, also a Vietnam veteran, was one of the earliest volunteers and one of the calming voices on the WMF board. "He brought a sense of reason to some very difficult moments," says Fauriol.

  • John Morrison, who had been wounded in action, Scruggs noted, "took on many difficult tasks and without fail showed his integrity, wit, and courage."

  • Dick Radez, a banker who graduated from both West Point and Harvard, "provided invaluable advice and assistance in the development of a comprehensive plan for financing the memorial," wrote Scruggs. "His later work in developing a political strategy to keep the memorial from being destroyed was particularly significant."

  • John Woods, who also had been badly wounded in Vietnam, "used his expertise as a designer/ structural engineer to both build and defend the memorial," Scruggs wrote.

  • Art Mosley, one of Jack Wheeler's West Point classmates, researched the question how to build a memorial, and "pushed for a world-class jury for a world-class competition," in Wheeler's words.

Among those involved in the competition:

The jurors-landscape architects Garrett Eckbo and Hideo Sasaki; sculptors Costantino Nivola, James Rosati, and Richard H. Hunt; architects Retro Belluschi and Harry Weese; and Grady Clay, editor of Landscape Architecture-along with the VVMF's professional adviser, landscape architect Paul Spreiregen, were conscientious in fulfilling their responsibilities.

The memorial established the career of a young architecture student at Yale, MayaYing Lin, whose design won the unanimous endorsement of the jurors and whose instinct-to use reflective black granite for the wall, and to orient the names of the dead in the order they were lost to the war- helped achieve the incandescent nature of the final product.

Her design, says Jack Wheeler," was the right solution and a work of genius." Credit also ought to go in part to her professor at Yale, Andrus Burr, her fellow students in that class, and to two Manhattan architects, Carl Pucci and Ross Andersen, whose suggestions, Burr noted in a letter to Bob Doubek, were incorporated into Maya's presentation.

Sculptor Frederick Hart, whose entry lost in the original competition, was commissioned to conceive and produce the Three Fightingmen sculpture that was added to the memorial.

In the political arena, the memorial had more than a few key supporters in high places, as well as a bevy of conciliators, counselors, and catalysts:

  • Sen. Charles Mathias, a Maryland Republican who served in the Navy during the Second World War, was an opponent of America's involvement in Vietnam. He nevertheless embraced the concept of the memorial from the start, introduced the legislation in the Senate that designated two acres on the Mall at Constitution Gardens for the memorial, and rallied his fellow senators behind the effort.

  • Sen. John Warner, the Virginia Republican who had served as Secretary of the Navy for much of the war, used his contacts and good office to raise some of the first significant monies for the effort, and worked tirelessly to bring together the proponents of the design for the memorial and those who felt betrayed by it.

  • In the House, Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt, a Republican from Arkansas, introduced a bill similar to Mathias' to grant land for the memorial.

  • Major Tom Shull, a young White House fellow on the staff of Richard Darman, deputy to President Reagan's chief of staff, Jim Baker, played a critical behind-the-scenes role in eliminating the final bit of official opposition to the proposed memorial (by Interior Secretary James Watt, who withheld approval for the construction permit for an unseemly long time). As the deadline for breaking ground at the site neared critical mass, as opponents to the design, led by Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot, an early supporter of the WMF who despised the design, galvanized their opposition, Shull brought a model of the memorial to the Roosevelt Room in the White House. There, after its power and simplicity won over key staffers (including Baker, Darman, presidential confidante Edwin Meese, and President Reagan himself), Shull reached out to contacts at Interior to change Watt's mind-and to get the construction permit issued without any further delay.

  • Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran who was then deputy administrator of the VA, was one of the Reagan administration's few public voices to speak out on behalf of the memorial.

  • Brigadier Gen. George B. Price describes himself as an "adviser and catalyst" during the process; others have called him a very settling influence. At a critical meeting during which opponents cited black as the color of shame, Price, one of this nation's highest-ranking African-American officers, reminded the room that black is indeed not the color of shame. "Color meant nothing in Korea and in Vietnam," he said. "We are all equal in combat. Color should mean nothing now." This stifled all mention of a white wall. Price believed that "Maya Lin's design captured the essence of what we wanted to accomplish. When the two refinements-the Frederick Hart sculpture and the flag pole-were added, we collectively achieved our goal."

  • Gen. Michael Davison planted the seed of compromise between the proponents and opponents of the chosen design at that meeting by suggesting the addition of a statue and a flag and by improving the inscription on the memorial. Says Wheeler of Davison: "You wanted to live up to his integrity and the dignity he projects. His presence alone made it hard to misbehave."

  • J. Carter Brown, who as chairman of the Fine Arts Commission had worn the mantle of Washington's arbiter of excellence, led the commission in endorsing the proposed design, then wouldn't cave to the pressures to undermine it. "He kept us from disfiguring the memorial," said Gen. Price.

  • Episcopal Bishop John Walker, Wheeler notes, "committed to opening the doors of the National Cathedral for the reading of the names. For me personally," he added, "Bishop Walker called me and told me, 'I want you to know that I'll support you.' That meant a lot."

Among the matchmakers: Stuart Feldman, a Washington lawyer and proponent of fair treatment for veterans-he was instrumental in forming the Council of Vietnam Veterans, the precursor to VVA, with Bobby Muller-invited Scruggs to a planning session for a National Salute to Vietnam Veterans week. Joe Zengerle invited Bob Doubek. And two kindred souls met.

The arms and legs of the effort were the volunteers who folded the flyers and stuffed the envelopes and licked the stamps.

In the end, though, those who deserve thanks, offers Jack Wheeler, are all who served in the Vietnam War. They served with honor and with dignity and with integrity despite the turbulence and turmoil of one of the most wrenching episodes in the history of America.

   

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