Washington, D.C.’s Vietnam Memorial has been an iconic symbol of the gravity of the conflict since its design and finished construction in 1982. Its stone is firmly planted in the ground of D.C., but its likeness travels the country with the American Veterans Traveling Tribute. This past weekend, the 80% replica was brought to Powderworks Park in DuPont for several days of memorial and reflection for our community.
D.C.’s memorial was designed by Maya Lin, who at that time was a 21-year-old Yale student. She won the anonymous contest for the design of a Vietnam War memorial while still taking architecture classes, and her design was a controversial choice straight away. Completely void of similarities to other war memorials in D.C., Lin’s model consisted of two black gabbro stone walls, sunken into the ground of D.C. and meeting in the middle as a V. The design represents a wound that is healing. Essential to the wound is the names of the KIA or MIA service-members that stretch from its tight corners to the central swell. The two ends of the wall point to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
Though now it is recognized for its symbolism and subtlety, Lin’s design was initially met with criticism for several reasons. The design wasn’t traditional; its grim walls are far removed from the statues and monuments that surround it in D.C. Being a college student, Lin also lacked professional experience. Her Asian ethnicity was another point of discontent for her detractors.
It’s morbidly ironic how easy it is to draws parallels between the memorial’s controversy and those Vietnam troops whose names are etched into the wall. Those soldiers were often so young that it didn’t seem right for them to be sent to war, but many sacrificed everything for their country. Many were draftees with minimum military experience. Their ethnicities were irrelevant to the service the provided and to what they sacrificed.
Thursday through Sunday, the Traveling Tribute’s home was DuPont. With ceremony throughout the weekend, the local community paid their respects to the fallen soldiers. Flowers were laid. Family members were recognized. Veterans read the names of their brothers in arms.
It’s hard to call this wall a “replica.” “Replica” implies something that isn’t real, something that is fake or less significant than an original. The Traveling Tribute doesn’t offer the physical reflection that the stone of D.C.’s memorial does. But there’s no doubt that those who stare into the names of the traveling wall can still feel on their skin the sacrifices these service-members made in that war.
This wall is 80% the size of the one in Washington’s Constitution Gardens but the people listed on it retain every bit of significance, regardless of where you read their names. You can follow the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Vietnam Memorial here.
Many of the Vietnam-era service-members whose names are not on the wall still suffer. If you’d like to support Vietnam veterans, there are many programs that can use resources and help.
Donations to the traveling memorial directly impact where it can go and how many people get the chance to see it. You can make a donation here.