Names chiseled on black granite. No war memorial in America is more recognized than the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Dedicated 30 years ago, this week, its design was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before — the work of a 21-year-old Yale student named Maya Lin. So revolutionary was Lin’s design concept that critics initially took offense, seeing the design as just a gloomy gash of darkness that emerged from the earth.
Photography by Chris Waits, flickr
Not so today. While some walls divide, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial brings people together; relics, from baseball mitts to old photos, are often left at its base. For family, friends and old military buddies, the wall is the closest many can come to pay their respects to those 58,272 Americans who lost their lives in America’s longest, most contentious military engagement. What unfolds, as you walk down the pathway, is a story of sacrifice, for sure, but also of chance and memory: Because every last name on the wall is written in the order in which the individual was reported to have died.
The power of those names takes on even deeper weight this week. Since Wednesday, some 2,000 volunteers have been reading the names engraved on the wall in honor of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial’s 30th anniversary. (This is only the fifth time that such a reading has occurred — the last times were at the memorial’s dedication in November 1982, as well as for the 10th, 20th and 25th anniversaries. This week, individuals such as public officials (including Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, who served as an infantryman in 1968), as well as other veterans, along with sons and daughters of those lost, and even those who have no immediate connection to the war, have all gathered to read the names. The reading began Wednesday at 4 p.m. and stretched through midnight. It has continued every day since from 8 a.m. until midnight. The last reading is Saturday.
If you find yourself in Washington, DC, for Veterans Day weekend, stop by the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial. Hear the names.
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