Thoughts on the “Wall” That’s Coming


Rose at Vietnam Memorial.

Rose at Vietnam Memorial.

When she was an undergraduate student in the late 1970s, Maya Lin entered a design contest with a monetary prize that gathered thousands of entries. Her design was a giant, flat V that sinks into the earth, about 2 feet tall at the ends, sinking to 10 feet at the apex.

She won the contest, although the design was ridiculed at the time. History has proven her wise beyond her years, as the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, which opened in the early 1980s, has become the most popular national monument in our national’s capital. Photos on this post, except the one from Hanoi, are ones I took there this year.

People often leave artifacts at the DC Wall.

People often leave artifacts at the DC Wall.

The names of almost 60,000 dead, thousands of men and a handful of women, are chronologically arranged on reflective black stone. The middle is where the “ends” meet—one side of the V terminates at the apex in 1975, the year the war ended; but the adjacent panel at the apex on the other wing of the monument starts its listing at the start of the American war: 1959. It’s a very alpha and omega design, the start and end touching in the middle.

The reflective design emphasizes the names, and the black stone gives a slightly eerie reflection of the viewer and the surroundings—the monument connects then and now in a deep way that is very moving.

Maya Lin doesn’t call it “the wall.” It’s more like a surface, an interface, the meeting of then and now. She has called it a wound that is deep but is also healing.

I saw the original memorial for the first time this spring during a March visit to Washington, D.C. I want to go back. But for now, I’ll live with the replica coming to me.

So it is pretty cool that a traveling facsimile of the monument will be at Mount Mercy this week, largely due to the energy of Joe Nguyen, the chemistry professor who proposed the idea for the fall faculty series. In effect, I’ve coordinated the forums in the series that will stretch from September until late November, but this weekend belongs more to Joe Nguyen.

The "three soldiers" were added after the controversy about the memorial's design.

The “three soldiers” were added after the controversy about the memorial’s design.

Thank you, Little Joe, for your hard work. Thank you Cedar Memorial, other donors and MMU for deciding this would happen. Thank you to the facilities crew at MMU who has worked so hard to get the lawn of Warde Hall ready for what we hope will be a crowd of thousands.

Tomorrow, it comes. I hope you’ll be there. It may be a replica, but I suspect the Moving Wall will be moving, indeed. It’s great to see the original there between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, but if you can’t go to DC tomorrow or this weekend, head on down to Mount Mercy.

The one war memorial dedicated to women is part of the cluster of Vietnam memorials in Washington DC.

The one war memorial dedicated to women is part of the cluster of Vietnam memorials in Washington DC.

And finally, thanks, Maya. Forgive those, like Ross Perot, who rejected your idea and didn’t understand. You went on to become one of our country’s best known artists and a designer of other famous monuments, which goes to show that the young undergraduate with the strange but brilliant idea was thinking clearly all those years ago.

The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial is not political. It does not take a stand on the war. It is, instead, a stark reminder of what that war, and all wars, actually means.

And tomorrow, it will be here. That’s awesome in the actual, literal meaning of the word—something that fills me with some awe.

They have a very different memorial in Hanoi. It was a different war, there.

They have a very different memorial in Hanoi. It was a different war, there. Image from Wikicommons.

So I should sign off, go to bed, try to get some sleep. Staying up won’t make the truck move any faster nor speed the installation.

And you, dear reader, should go to the MMU web site, figure out when you can come to campus and visit this replica. You will not regret it.

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