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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.