Vietnam Veterans Memorial

U.S. National Archives

A Story Behind the Memorial

Joint Resolution Signed by Congress
Jimmy Carter's signature began the official process of creating the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. 

Jan Scruggs, founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation, wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post on why it is necessary to create a Vietnam Memorial.

Scruggs sought to bring together a nation which had been divided by the war.

"We would appreciate it if you could bring this to Mrs. Reagan's attention as soon as possible. Sincerely-
Mrs. Kielich
P.S. We're next door!"

Personal note attached to a letter to Mrs. Reagan.

Jan Scruggs' letter to Mrs. Reagan to request her to join the National Sponsoring Committee of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

Design Program
The Design Program booklet gave competitors details of the Memorial site, and description of the site where the Vietnam Veterans Memorial would be located.

Inside the first pages of the Design Program.

Description of the Memorial site, vegetation, sub-soil conditions, topography, and other details of the area.

Details of how visitors would view the Memorial on foot.

Left side describes the outside noise of the Mall, and details other places and memorials to visit.

Right side provides aerial views of the proposed location.

Different views from inside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site, in varying seasons.

Varied views looking towards the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site.

Requirements of the Memorial design, and what is required in the Memorial.

How to ship design entries, and how to identify competitors.

Back pages of the Design Program.

Pamphlet to help raise funds for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The Memorial was created with all private donations, no government funds.

Inside the pamphlet, which details the purpose behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Fact Sheet
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund released a fact sheet, in 1980, to share their motives with the public. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) would regularly update their fact sheets to keep the public, and all donors, aware of their progress.
Information Sheet
The information sheet updated the public on the status of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Competition and funding behind the Memorial.

Fund fact sheet so the VVMF could be fully transparent about their use of donations.

Competition Winner Announcement
Three page letter which announced the winner of the design competition. It also described the selection committee which selected the winning contestant, Maya Lin.

The underline was made by a White House official, which gives a glimpse into what the White House found most important about the announcement.

These concept images of the winning design were released to the public after the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation announced the winner.

Backside of the concept image booklet.

The pamphlet announced the winner of the design competition. It also lists the runners-up and the honorable mentions.

Group of unidentified people holding a plaque of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial design

Mrs. Reagan's thank you notes to people who donated over $500. Those donors included Henry Kissinger and Martha Stewart.

The statement by Maya Lin is marked up by a White House official, which shows what the White House saw as important aspects of the Memorial.

Maya Lin described why she created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial the way she did.

Many people were vocally upset about the winning Memorial design. This is one Vietnam vet who was very unhappy about the design, and he believed the monument would only bring negative connotations of the Vietnam War to future generations.

Much of the criticism towards the design had to do with people feeling the Memorial was an apology, not a celebration.

One of the few positive articles on Maya Lin, which was published in The New York Times.

Some of the glowing description for Maya Lin's design.

The National Review was much more negative about the Memorial. The believed the monument was a disgrace and insult to Vietnam veterans.

The author painted the Memorial as an insult to Vietnam Veterans, and that the Memorial should be thrown into a tidal flat.

Thomas Carhart wrote to the U.S. Fine Arts Commission stating his issues and problems with the selection process used by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation in choosing a winner.

One of the issues Carhart had with the selection process was the fact that no one in the selection committee had served in Vietnam.

Carhart stated that when he came home from Vietnam he was spat upon, and that this Memorial design fits the narrative of the Vietnam Veteran as the enemy to the American people.

Carhart felt that the black marble of the memorial was out of place in Washington D.C., and he described the only other black facade memorials in the area. The other black facade memorials were all heroic, and the Vietnam Memorial did not fit that heroic theme.

Carhart does not want a Vietnam Memorial which feels like an apology. He wants his service to be treated with "grace and dignity."

James Webb resigned from the VVMF after disagreeing with the design of the Memorial, as well as the selection process.

The letter by Webb detailed the changes he sought to be made, which are the reasons behind his resignation.

Final two points by Webb.

Members of the House of Representatives sent an additional letter to the White House expressing their disdain for the proposed design of the Memorial.

Signatures of different members of the House of Representatives, who were against the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Critical letter to the White House about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Government record of Daly's critical letter

"What is this about"

The Compromise
Ross Perot brokered a compromise to allow the construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The compromise added an American flag, a heroic statue, and the inscription to be rewritten.

Letter from the American Legion professing support for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The American Legion argued that controversy for the design did not come about until 1982. As previously seen, disparaging letters came immediately following the public announcement of the design.

Lloyd Unsell was a supporter of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and he wrote a strongly worded letter to a person who disparaged the Memorial's design.

National Salute to Vietnam Veterans
Handwritten rough draft schedule for the National Salute to Vietnam Veterans

Second page of the handwritten schedule

Final Draft of the schedule for the National Salute to Vietnam Veterans.

Request to have Mrs. Reagan at the candlelight vigil for the National Salute to Vietnam Veterans.

Overview of the responsibilities to be taken by Mrs. Reagan for the National Salute to Vietnam Veterans.

Final Approval for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
The United States Department of the Interior gave its final approval for groundbreaking, and the creation, of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Second page of the original approval.

Final USDI approval to allow construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

President Reagan and the First Lady lighting candles at the candlelight vigil memorial service for Vietnam Veterans at National Cathedral

Pamphlet on how to walk the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and how to find the names of deceased veterans.

Inside the pamphlet.

Memorial design

Continuation of the Memorial design.

Program for National Salute to Vietnam Veterans.

Opening page of the program souvenir

Opening remarks by the Chairman of the Board and the President of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

Letter from the President in support of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Souvenirs and mementos to raise funds for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Critical letter to President Reagan about his official recognition of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and that the other Vietnam Memorials are not officially recognized or acknowledged.

Blackwell's response to Westphall's letter

John Wheeler wrote to thank President Reagan, and to affirm the success of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund's Report to Congress
The VVMF report to Congress detailed how successful the fundraising for the Memorial went, and how popular the Vietnam Veterans Memorial had been.

Summary of how the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was created.

Continued summary of the creation and groundbreaking.

Future necessary construction and maintenance of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Continuation of the future construction and maintenance needed.

The problem of adding additional names to the Memorial is addressed at the bottom.

Continuation of the process of adding additional names to the Memorial.

The rest of the page goes into how the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund received its private funding.

Details of how the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund spent its private funding.

Itemized description of the future construction and maintenance needed for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

List of the Members of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Committee.

Top of the page goes into the audit by the IRS on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

Bottom of the page gives special recognition to veteran organizations in helping to raise the necessary funds.

Continuation of the special thanks to certain groups and people who helped raise significant funds for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Beginning of the final conclusion made by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

"The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is already one of the most popular attractions in Washington; drawing up to fifteen thousand visitors daily. Only the National Air and Space Museum and the Lincoln Memorial attract more visitors."

President Reagan giving his speech at the Memorandum of Conveyance ceremony for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Memorandum of Conveyance
This transferred the rights of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to the United States Department of the Interior

The details of all the conditions needed by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to complete the transfer of the rights to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial from the VVMF to the USDI.

"The design of the Memorial, like the war whose American soldiers it memorializes, has been controversial from the outset."

"Despite the early controversy of its design, the Memorial has succeeded in attracting the public far beyond anyone's original expectations."

Beginning of the itemized conditions the USDI needed to follow to maintain the Memorial.

Continuation of the conditions.

The bottom half of the page is where the respective signatures for each dignitary belong to transfer the rights of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

President Reagan signing the Memorandum of Conveyance.

Second angle of President Reagan signing the Memorandum of Conveyance.

President Reagan giving his speech at the Memorandum of Conveyance ceremony for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

President Reagan's speech script, which can be seen in the following slides.

First page of President Reagan's speech at the Memorandum of Conveyance. The pages are marked up by President Reagan so he knew when to have a line break. The speech was written by Peggy Noonan.

President Reagan did not use a teleprompter; all markings and line-breaks were made by President Reagan.

The video is President Reagan reading this transcript, prior to the signing of the Memorandum of Conveyance.

Credits: Story

Exhibit: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

This exhibit was created by Cole Puente

Special thanks to Mira Cohen, Carina Morgan, Carol Cohea, Michael Pinckney, Beth Calleros, Mike Duggan, Randy Swan, and Meredith Doviak

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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