Sunday, March 29, is National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
Its design is simple: Two long, black granite walls, set into the natural landscape, meet to form a V, and etched into the stone are the names of 58,276 military personnel who died during the long, divisive conflict.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., ultimately changed everything for the veterans of that war, but opposition to the design was so fierce that it almost didn’t get built.
“A civil war really broke out between the military veterans of Vietnam over this design,” said Jan Scruggs, founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and a combat veteran himself. Shortly after a jury of architects chose a design by Yale student Maya Lin from a national competition, vets weighed in by the scores with their disapproval-- one called it a “black hole in the ground,” another said it might as well have an inscription saying “designed by a gook.” At the eleventh hour, opposition leaders tried to stop the final construction permit from being issued.
But Scruggs pushed forward with the help of a White House Fellow, and the memorial finally went up in 1982.
“The memorial changed everything for the Vietnam veterans,” who'd faced bitter scorn when they returned to the U.S., Scruggs said. “All of a sudden, everyone's proud to be a Vietnam veteran and everybody shakes their hands, and they get to stand up during baseball games. So they got what they certainly deserved.”