Remembering Vietnam at the Wall

Listeners On Air

Friday, November 08, 2013

Last month, as part of our American Icons series, we explored the history and enduring impact of The Vietnam Veterans Memorial. After the broadcast, we heard from dozens of listeners — including many veterans their family members — about what the Wall means to them.

“I’m proud to say my father was a Marine combat correspondent in the Pacific and was assigned to be part of the team that built the Iwo Jima memorial in Rosalyn,” says David DeChant, a former Marine who wrote us. “And so my four brothers and my mom were all part of that history.” DeChant continued that tradition by assisting Jan Scruggs, the man responsible for starting a campaign to build a Vietnam memorial. “I met Jan at the Lincoln Memorial one day — he was handing out flyers saying he needs help. Within a couple of days I volunteered to be with the operation.”

The night before the controversial memorial’s dedication, DeChant remembers talking with designer Maya Lin. “We were all so excited, everybody’s pumped on adrenaline, we were going to make history … and because I had a car Maya said, ‘I’d like to go to the memorial’ and I said, let’s get her done.” By the time Lin and DeChant arrived at the memorial, a huge crowd had gathered. One particularly upset vet approached Lin. “I can see this veteran now,” DeChant remembers. “He was beating on his right leg, which was a prosthesis, and he said ‘is this the best that our country can do for us? Is this the best you can do, young lady?”

Lin also remembers the encounter. “All I could think of is [that] it was working … because it was pulling out an incredible amount of emotion,” she tells Kurt Andersen.

DeChant escorted Lin out to prevent the encounter from escalating. But the experience, and the impact of the Wall, stays with him. “There was so much pain and anger that began to heal that week,” he says. “To see all the love, the tears, the affection, and of course the anger and sadness — all one crucible. Just very cathartic. It was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had in my life.”

→ Listen to American Icons: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial – and share your stories about the Wall.

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Comments [6]

Wayne Johnson Ph.D. from Bk

Thank you for this excellent documentary. I also appreciate your mention of those not included on The Wall. That is a story that needs telling in depth: the real story of the two million Vietnamese who died because of America's obscene decision to invade their country. I have been to My Lai and seen the memorial to the 550 men, women, and children who were massacred by American soldiers. This was not an exceptional occurrence. As Marianrita points out in an earlier comment, the antiwar movement needs to be memorialized too. Iran and Afghanistan demonstrate that we have learned no lesson from Vietnam, as we continue to send troops into a bloody, useless, quagmire.

Nov. 11 2013 03:24 PM
Nathan from Hoboken, NJ

41, so just born at the end of the War, I recall being told as a kid, it is not a war, it was a Police Action, then I learned about all the lies, treachery, and meaninglessness of this escapade. It was incredibly hard for me and other who saw people in the 20-somethings around us so wounded from Vietnam to listening to the tehoritc of the last 10+years.

I simply wish, and nearly have given up on this idea in our increasingly war mongering nation, that what we would do to truly honor our veterans would be to stop starting meaningless wars - to stop and think about the human cost of our mistakes.

That is the greatest thing I can think we must do to thank all of our veterans, particulate those of the Vietnam Era.

Nov. 11 2013 02:39 PM

There will be no real healing until there is also a memorial to the warriors against the war, warriors for peace, those who tried to stop the slaughter of Vietnam and save some of the lives memorialized by Maya Lin--warriors such as the students at Kent and Jackson State, the four dead at the Chicano Moratorium, and warriors such as my friend Abby, a student at Barnard, who dropped dead of a concussion injury a few days after she was clubbed at an antiwar demonstration in 1971, and I'm sure many other unknowns. They, too, have still-grieving friends and families. Some of us would have friends and loved ones on both memorials.

Nov. 11 2013 02:19 PM
Jenny from Studio 360

Hi Elissa --

You can see photos of Suzanne Opton's "Soldier" series on our site:

And they're collected in this book:

Nov. 10 2013 04:28 PM
Elissa Emerson from Providence, RI

I have long loved the Wall. I have a cousin and a friend there. My question: where may we see upton's photos of "Soldiers?" Seems like an extension of all the memorials.

Nov. 10 2013 12:31 PM
Lisa Taylor

The Wall inspired healing and a song from me when I journeyed there. "The Giving Wall" is still one of my favorite songs although I rarely sing it. Maya Lin's simple design got to me because of all of the reflections of the living who had come to read and touch the names; the moms, the dads, the brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters... they were casualties of this war as well.

Nov. 09 2013 03:37 PM

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