The Vietnam Veterans War Memorial

Statement by Maya Ying Lin, March, 1981
(presented as part of her competition submission)

"Walking through this park-like area, the memorial appears as rift in the earth, a long, polished, black stone wall, emerging from and receding into the earth. Approaching the memorial, the ground slopes gently downward and the low walls emerging on either side, growing out of the earth, extend and converge at a point below and ahead. Walking into this grassy site contained by the walls of the memorial we can barely make out the carved names upon the memorial's walls. These names, seemingly infinite in number, convey the sense of overwhelming numbers, while unifying these individuals into a whole.

Read her entire statement

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc., a nonprofit charitable organization formed to establish the memorial, was the idea of Jan Scruggs, a former infantry corporal during the war.
Read Scruggs' forward to the book, Reflections on the Wall.

There were several criteria that established the design of the memorial:

(1) The design should be reflective and contemplative in nature.

(2) The design should harmonize with its natural surroundings, especially the neighboring memorials.

(3) The design should contain the names of all who died or remain missing.

(4) The design should make no political statements about the war.

By separating the issue of those who served in Vietnam from that of U.S. policy in the war, the group hoped to begin a process of national reconciliation.

On July 1, 1980, Congress authorized a site in Constitution Gardens for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. A national competition was held that fall to select the design for the Memorial. 1,421 entries were submitted and judged anonymously by a jury of eight internationally recognized artists and designers.

The wining design was the creation of Maya Ying Lin of Athens, Ohio, who at that time was a 21-year-old undergraduate student at Yale university. Her concept was for two long walls to meet at a center creating a chevron shape. Maya Ying Linn conceived her design as creating a park within a park -- a quiet protected place unto itself, yet harmonious with the site. To achieve this effect she chose polished black granite for the walls. Its mirror like surface reflects the surrounding trees, lawns, monuments, and the people looking for names.

Maya Lin has since gone on to design many marvelous works of art, which like the Wall are abstract and contemplative in nature, including the Civil Rights Memorial build in Montgomery, AL and the Wave Field at the University of Michigan. An Oscar-winning documentary entitled "Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision" was made about her in 1995.

Ground was broken for the Memorial on March 26, 1982, and the Memorial was dedicated November 13, 1982. The $7 million cost for the memorial was raised entirely through contributions.


One wall points toward the Washington Monument and the other toward the Lincoln Memorial, thus linking the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Memorial to the historical context of the National Mall.  


An aerial shot of the memorial


From the nearby street, the memorial is invisible. It is not until you are almost on top of the Wall, that you begin to experience its power.



There is a walkway along the sides of the Wall; each side is almost 250 feet long. At the center, or vertex, the height of the Wall is slightly over 10 feet. 


The list of names begins at the vertex of the walls below the date of the first casualty, 1959, and continues to the end of the east wall.


The list resumes at the tip of the west wall, ending at the vertex, above the date of the last death, 1975.


With the meeting of the beginning and ending, a major epoch in American history is signified.



The walls are made of polished black granite from Bangalore, India. It was cut and fabricated at Barre, Vermont. The names were grit-blasted in Memphis, Tennessee. Each individual name is slightly over half an inch high.

Chiseled on the wall are the names of the 58,196 men and women who either died or are still listed as missing in Southeast Asia between 1959 and 1975. Each name is preceded on the west wall or followed on the east wall by one of two symbols: a diamond or a cross. The diamond denotes that the individual's death was confirmed. There are approximately 1,300 persons whose names are designated by a cross; these people are either missing or prisoners at the end of the war and remain unaccounted for.

The individuals are listed chronologically in the order that they were lost.


Each of the two walls of the Memorial is composed of 70 separate inscribed granite panels. The largest panels have 137 lines of names; the shortest have one line.

On each wall the panels are numbered from "1" to "70," with panel No. 1 at the vertex and panel No. 70 at the far end. Panel numbers are inscribed at the bases of the panels. On every second panel, every tenth line is denoted by a marker in the margin to facilitate counting the lines.



The names of the first casualties (July, 1959) appear on the first line of panel No. 1 on the east wall below the date "1959." The chronological listing of the names by date of casualty (DOC) proceeds line by line down each panel and then to the top line of the panel to the right, as though the panels were pages in a book.

Quoting from the statement presented with Maya Lin's submission:

"The Memorial is composed not as an unchanging monument, but as a moving composition to be understood as we move into and out of it. The passage itself is gradual; the descent to the origin slow, but it is at the origin that the Memorial is to be fully understood. At the intersection of these walls, on the right side, is carved the date of the first death. It is followed by the names of those who died in the war, in chronological order. These names continue on this wall appearing to recede into the earth at the wall's end. The names resume on the left wall as the wall emerges from the earth, continuing back to the origin where the date of the last death is carved."


The sequence of names proceeds from panel No. 70 on the east wall to panel No. 70 on the west wall. The listing continues on each panel to the right, until the names of the last casualties (in May, 1975) form the last lines of panel No. 1 on the west wall, above the date "1975." 




This is the last panel, 70, in the east wall, and has only one line of names.  





This panel is number 67 on the west wall.



A book is provided in a glass case to find names. It gives the names in alphabetical order and includes the position on the Memorial.


For more information about the Memorial:

Reflections, Memories, and Images of Vietnam Past

"Remembrance" is a collection of "Galleries" containing imagery, stories, poems, songs, maps, and narratives from or about the Vietnam War era. This section also contains a "Glossary" of terms and slang used in this era and found in the writings throughout this Site.

Official Website of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

Searchable Database for the Names on the Wall

Copyright Digital History 2018