In 1979 America decided to build a memorial for the more than 58,000 Vietnam veterans who would never come home. Bids went out for America's most prominent architects to submit their designs for the memorial. More than 1,400 designs were submitted. When the Memorial designs were ready they installed all of them out in a large aircraft hangar at a nearby Air Force base. The names of each designer was removed, each one tagged with just a number. The judging panel selected #1029.
The winning entry was designed by a 21 year old Chinese-American girl named Maya Lin. As a child she was something of a loner, had few friends, loved her school studies, and spent most of her free time sculpting images in bronze. She was a student at Ohio University when she heard about the call for the design of the Vietnam Memorial. In preparation for her submission she imagined, then discarded dozens of ideas for the memorial. Finally, she pondered the names of all of those thousands of vets who had given their lives for the war....and her mind conjured up the image of a violent black slash in the ground, representing the pain and loss of war.
When Maya's submission of that long black wall was announced as the winner Americans exploded in anger.....it didn't resemble any of the other war memorials and critics savaged the young girl...both for her design, as well as her ancestry. Ross Perot called her an "egg roll" and the Secretary of the Interior refused issue a building permit for that 3 acres just north of the Lincoln Memorial.
Yet the wall was built as designed. And, over the years, millions of Americans have visited the wall, including hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans who walk along the Wall, longer than a football field, and bow and touch the names of their comrades who gave their life for that war. The Wall is in two sections, each one rushing to join each other at an elevated summit, the two sections coming together meant to represent the healing of a wound.
The Vietnam Wall has since come to mean so much to so many. Wives and Mothers and Fathers, sisters and brothers, and brothers in arms and other loved ones visit the wall, leaving flowers just beneath the name of the lost loved one. They bring paper and crayon and take rubbings of their dear one's name.
When Vietnam vet John Devitt, of Stockton, California came to the inauguration of the memorial he was awed by the healing nature of the memorial. He vowed to start a traveling wall, a smaller version of it, and take it around the country so that everyone would have a chance to touch the name of a loved one lost in that war. And still today that traveling wall makes its rounds around America.
The Vietnam Memorial Wall is now one of the most popular war memorials in all of America. It seeks, and has succeeded in healing old wounds...in finally recognizing bravery and courage for those who lost their lives, and a late "welcome home" for those for whom no hero's welcome, no parades, no "welcome home" was ever expressed by the American people.
Today, 13 November, marks the 33rd Anniversary of the opening of the Vietnam War Memorial. How wise and wonderful were the imaginings of a 21 year old Chinese-American girl so long ago.