Forty years after the end of the Vietnam War, the definitive story is being told of the 3½-year quest to memorialize those who served and those who paid the ultimate price. In Creating the Vietnam Veterans Memorial: The Inside Story, I offer a compelling behind-the-scenes look at the creation of a memorial almost as controversial as the war itself.
As a co-founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the steward of the project from beginning to end, I detail the arduous and turbulent process that brought the chevron-shaped, polished black granite monument — etched in poignant tribute with the names of the 58,000-plus who died — to fruition. And like the war itself, the controversy over the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was inflamed along cultural and societal fault lines.
The divides fueling the debate included the questions of whether the war itself was right or wrong, and could those who fought and died in it be honored nonetheless? (Some in the anti-war movement said “no.”) What form should the memorial take — should it be a didactic representation of the war and the fighters, or could it be abstract, allowing each visitor to contemplate his or her own interpretation? Should the memorial be privately or publicly financed? (It was built without government funding.) Did the memorial belong on the National Mall? Those were just some of the considerations with which the Fund’s leadership grappled.
Creating the Vietnam Veterans Memorial: The Inside Story follows the Fund’s leaders as they navigate the lengthy, convoluted process of getting the memorial built, from fundraising and public relations to conducting the largest design competition ever held, as well as obtaining federal government approval for both its design and its siting on the Mall, where more than 4 million people now visit it each year.