The construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was, for the fund’s former executive director Robert Doubek, much like “walking through Hell.”
Controversy seemed to follow the organization at every turn as it fought to recognize the courage and sacrifices of those who served in one of America’s longest wars, according to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
Doubek released his book, “Creating the Vietnam Veterans Memorial: The Inside Story,” in June and he included a few stories surrounding the creation of the project that may not have been heard before.
Here is a sampling:
1. The process of inscribing the names into stone came to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund out of the blue.
“We had no clue how we were going to get 58,000 names inscribed,” Doubek told Newsmax. “A phone call came out of the blue one day. He said, ‘I think I’ve invented a process.’”
A Cleveland inventor had concocted a chemical, which became insoluble in water when exposed to light. The names were written in black on clear plastic with the chemical on the stone. The pieces were exposed to light, and every spot that was black remained water-soluble. After washing it down, the names were inscribed.
2. The White House Veterans Liaison Office originally called the foundation the “Bunko Squad.”
In 1979, the agency had not heard of the group and what they were planning on doing.
“They thought we were a scam,” Doubek said. “I thought it was funny.”
Another fund member, John Wheeler, was so “incensed” over the remark that he contacted friends in the political sphere, which led the veterans’ administrators to call the organization. Jan Scruggs, the founder of the idea to build the memorial, spoke to the liaison office and was eventually able to sort everything out.
3. Doubek once broke up a fight between Elizabeth Taylor and a veteran’s wife.
At a fundraiser for the memorial, Sen. John Warner asked Doubek to intercede in an argument between his wife, the British-American actress, and a veteran’s wife.
“I look over there, and these two women are facing each other with their forefingers in each other’s face,” Doubek recalled. “They’re kind of loud, so I go over there, and I insert my body between the two of them. What I heard was Elizabeth Taylor saying: ‘I didn’t call him a chub! I didn’t call him a chub!’”
The veteran had, from Doubek’s understanding, requested to take a picture with “Ms. Taylor,” but the actress spun around, saying, “That’s Mrs. Warner to you, chump!”
“His wife . . . had stood by her man through those hospital, that recuperation,” Doubek said. “She wasn’t going to take any s*** from anybody, Elizabeth Taylor included.”
The debacle resulted peacefully when the veteran’s wife took Taylor’s response as an apology.
4. The military and arts communities swapped roles for a moment.
When controversy erupted over the original design of the memorial, a compromise was made to add a statue. Because of the head of the Fine Arts Commission Jay Carter Brown’s “compassionate sensitivity,” the statue passed the agency without getting too much blowback from the art community for changing memorial designer Maya Lin’s original vision, Doubek said.
When the change was introduced into Congress, however, the Army representative on the American Battle Monuments Commission was the only one to renounce the alteration because he said he was unsure if it met his group’s criteria.
“All the preppy design types, like the architect at the Capitol said, ‘Come on, Col. Badger. It was the longest war in our history,’” Doubek laughed. “You got the artsy types arguing with the military guy why there should be a Vietnam Veterans Memorial.”
5. The memorial is not V-shaped.
Doubek expressed his distaste at this common misconception that was used to describe the organization of the granite slabs. The walls meet to form a 125-degree angle, which is typically greater than how most “Vs” are shaped. He said memorial designer Maya Lin even stated in an opinion piece that the wall is not V-shaped.
The idea of the memorial being a “V” caused speculation over its meaning: Vietnam, veterans, or even victim.
“No, it stands for vampire because you couldn’t kill it with a wooden stake,” Doubek chided.
6. The media didn’t always tell the full truth.
Author Tom Carhart gained popularity in the media for his opposition to the chosen design, calling it a “black gash of shame and sorrow,” according to Doubek. As a Purple Heart recipient, Carhart “was a good show.”
“The media always described Carhart as a former infantry platoon leader,” Doubek said. “They almost never admitted he entered the design competition and was an unsuccessful competitor in the competition.”
Additionally, another popular myth stated that business mogul Ross Perot had started the campaign. While Perot did provide funds for the design competition, according to Doubek, even if Perot had not, the foundation still would have had the $160,000 to make the contest happen.
“I mean, the media just throws that bulls***,” Doubek said on the issue.
7. Maya Lin did not receive a "C" in her architecture class.
Lin, a 21-year-old undergraduate at Yale University, created her winning design as part of an architecture course she was taking. According to Doubek, he had spoken to her professor, who stated she received an A- on the assignment and a B+ for the class in its entirety.
“He considered that to be a gift,” Doubek said. “She had been an indifferent student, having not completed one of the four assignments for the course.”
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