The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is the most visited war memorial in the United States capital, yet its history comes full of debate and controversy.
In and of itself, the Vietnam War was controversial and remains a hotly debated topic even today as some argue the United States’ undefeated record remains intact while others believe the country lost when it removed its troops from the Asian nation.
These different perspectives became central to discussions about construction of “the Wall,” according to Lehigh University’s The Vietnam Wall Controversy
. They also factored into later additions to the memorial.
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Here are four facts about the provocative memorial.
1. Private Funding
No government funds were used to build the memorial, only public land.
Vietnam veteran Jan Scruggs, the individual to first pitch the idea of a memorial, used $2,800 of his own money to begin the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund in 1979, according to History
. Congress provided three acres for the memorial on the National Mall, but the $8.4 million all came from private fundraising.
2. Site Selection
The first suggested location for the memorial was near the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery.
This site was decided to be too insignificant, so instead it was decided to be placed on the Hill.
“The idea of having all these names permanently displayed in Washington a few blocks from the White House, a block from the State Department, down the street from the U.S. Congress — to me, this was poetic justice,” Scruggs told the Washingtonian in 2007
. “These were the people everyone wanted to forget. They wanted this whole thing to go away, and I didn’t want it to go away.”
The selected design of the Wall from Maya Lin is criticized and given additions.
Tom Carhart at the October 1981 Committee of Fine Arts meetings called it a “black gash of shame” and an insult to the veterans, according to The Vietnam Wall Controversy. Others believed the V shape resembled a grave. The addition of a statue of three servicemen and a flag allowed the project to move forward even though Lin disagreed with the changes.
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4. Representation of Women
The women in the war, such as female nurses, were not given recognition originally.
Another sculpture depicting three women caring for an injured soldier was added to the memorial in 1993. Former Army nurse Diane Carlson Evans brought forth the idea to recognize the virtually unknown heroics of the thousands of women who volunteered to care for the wounded. The addition of the statue marked the first time in history a memorial in the capital honored women’s service, according to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund
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