Vietnam Veterans Memorial
(Constitution Ave. and Henry Bacon Dr., NW; Architect: Maya Ying Lin; Dedicated: 1982)
Often referred to as the “Wall,” the Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors the American soldiers who were killed during the war, were prisoners of war and who remain missing in action. Their names are listed chronologically on the black granite V-shaped memorial.
The movement to erect a memorial to Vietnam Veterans was started in 1979 by Jan Scruggs, an infantry corporal. By 1980, Congress had dedicated two acres of Constitution Gardens for a tribute to the veterans of the controversial conflict. No federal funds were used in the building of the memorial, which relied on private donations.
A design contest attracted more than 1,400 proposals. The winning design was submitted by Maya Lin, a 21-year-old Yale University architecture student. Employing a simple, subtle design, Lin hoped that someday the “names would become the memorial.”
The wall is composed of two wings—one of which points toward the Lincoln Memorial while the other stretches toward the Washington Monument. The wings gradually grow in height and eventually converge to form a “V.” The wall blends into its natural surroundings to symbolize the healing process it was to represent. As Lin explained: “Take a knife and cut open the earth and with time the grass would heal it.”
As visitors pass along the list of names, the polished, shiny granite reflects their visages, enabling veterans and civilians alike to see themselves within the sea of the war’s casualties.
The design was immediately met with controversy. Some were moved by the poignant simplicity of the memorial, while others bristled at the dark, morose granite. In order to placate the dissenters, artist Frederick E. Hart was commissioned to create a sculpture to give the memorial a stronger human element. The resulting Three Servicemen statue depicts young soldiers of different races gazing at the wall with weariness, pride, and valor.
Visitors are encouraged to make rubbings of names, using graphite pencils and commemorative paper supplied by park rangers. The names are listed in chronological order from 1959 to 1975, and are listed alphabetically on each day of action. Beside each name, a symbol denotes the status of the soldier: diamonds mark those who were killed in action, crosses denote those who are missing or classified as prisoners of war. If a soldier marked with a cross were to return home, a circle would be inscribed around the cross. If the soldier were to return dead, the cross would be modified to a diamond.
U.S. Navy Memorial and Naval Heritage Center
(701 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; Dedicated: 1990; Architect: Conklin Rossant; Sculptor: Stanley Bleifeld)
Washington, D.C. city designer Pierre L’Enfant included a Navy Memorial in his original plans for the city, but no actions were taken on L’Enfant’s intent until 1977, when the Navy Memorial Foundation was established.
A seven-foot tall bronze statue entitled “Lone Soldier”stands at the entrance to the U.S. Navy Memorial, representing all past, present and future Navy servicemen and women. The statue is cast in bronze mixed with artifacts from eight historic vessels.
The memorial is an amphitheater-like construction featuring a 100-foot, 108-ton granite map—the largest in the world. The map is framed by two sculpture walls with 22 bronze reliefs that honor aspects of naval service. At the time of the memorial’s dedication, the fountains in the center of the memorial plaza were filled with water from each of the world’s major bodies of water. The memorial also maintains a computerized list of individuals who have served in the Navy, and visitors can add their names and the names of their loved ones to this searchable registry.