Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Effort Underway to Enhance Vietnam Vets Memorial

Sadly, for many, the Vietnam War is something they'd just as soon forget. According to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, at least 40 percent of the people who annually visit the memorial (better known simply as "The Wall") in Washington, DC are too young to remember the war. But I remember.

I was just a kid during the Vietnam War, but I was a news junkie even then who read everything I could about that war, from reports in my local newspaper to graphic photo essays in Life magazine. And I vividly recall CBS News' Walter Cronkite's report on the TET Offensive, the deadly nationwide surge by North Vietnamese forces, and his out-of-character commentary that we were not winning the war.

I was immersed in that war at an impressionable age and have contemplated and written about it ever since. I suspect it's a big reason why I became a journalist. We had friends and neighbors who went to Vietnam - some came home alive, some didn't. Like so many Americans, I questioned our involvement in that war. But I never questioned the valor of those who fought in it. And I think most Americans now agree that the callous way in which Vietnam veterans were sometimes treated, both by a bureaucratic, sometimes unhelpful Veterans Administration as well by politicians and the public, was a national disgrace.


First time I visited "The Wall," I was proudly accompanied by a group of Marines who were the last American troops to officially leave Vietnam. I had spent more than a month finding them and bringing them together for a story I was writing for People magazine. It was an emotional experience watching these warriors tearfully etching out with pencil and paper the names of fallen buddies whose names were carved into the memorial's black granite. I remember thinking that day that "The Wall" was a nice monument to those who served, but that it wasn't quite enough, considering the fact that more than 58,000 American men and women died in that war and that so many troops who did make it out alive were disrespected when they came home.

Well, soon Vietnam veterans will get a little more respect. Soon, the memorial will be much more than just a wall. According to American Forces Press Service, a major national fundraising effort is under way to build an underground education center next to the memorial that will finally put these names and this war into context. The education center will place faces and stories with the names etched in the granite, and much more.

'There is magic in that wall with its 58,000 names,' retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, honorary chairman for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund's education center campaign, told 'We want to make sure those names never become anonymous to future generations.' As it keeps their memories alive, Powell said the center also will 'pay tribute to all generations of GIs who answer the call to serve.'

According to Armed Forces Press Service, the education center, as envisioned by Jan Scruggs, founder and president of the Memorial Fund, will provide interactive exhibits and primary source materials to help visitors better understand the profound impact of the Vietnam War on servicemembers' families, their communities and hometowns and the nation. Planned exhibits include a "Wall of Faces," to feature photos of those lost in Vietnam and a gallery of the more than 100,000 items left in tribute at the memorial's wall since 1982.

Meanwhile, The History Channel recently announced a $10,000 contribution to the campaign and is helping the memorial fund distribute 'Hometown Heroes,' which was written to assist middle and high school teachers and their students in class projects about the Vietnam War. Students are shown how to identify resources in their communities to learn more about the local individuals who served during the Vietnam War and whose names are on The Wall. The project will assist them in connecting with veterans and family members and show them how to involve the community in projects to remember and honor the fallen.


According to The History Channel, when students gather information, remembrances and photographs of those whose names are on The Wall, they will send copies to memorial fund for use in the education center, which will showcase the photos of the showing these larger-than-life photos on their birthdays. The 'Hometown Heroes' project will provide valuable materials for these exhibits. In return, the memorial fund is assisting the History Channel in promoting its "Take a Veteran to School" program.

Armed Forces Press Service reports that construction of the center will cost $85 million, all to be raised through private donations. So far, nearly $25 million in pledges has been raised from all sectors of society. Peter Holt, owner of the San Antonio Spurs National Basketball Association team, reportedly promised his fellow Texans to match up to $1 million in their donations. 'Raise a million and I'll match it,' he challenged.