Vietnam Memorial Historical Facts and Design 

Updated April 11, 2022
Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. is a monument that honors the brave members of the United States Armed Forces who served in the Vietnam War. It pays tribute to their sacrifice, and provides visitors with an opportunity to pay their respects to those who died in relation to the conflict. The memorial opened to the public on Veterans Day in 1982, nine years after the last U.S. military unit withdrew from Vietnam. Discover some key facts about the Vietnam Memorial, including information about its unique design and what to expect if you visit.

Raising Money for the Vietnam Memorial

Final fundraising efforts to pay for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to be established began in May of 1979, when Jan C. Scruggs, a decorated Vietnam veteran, set aside $2,800 of his own money to start the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF). The fund eventually raised $8.4 million for the design and construction of the memorial. Scruggs persuaded Congress to set aside three acres of land on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the memorial site.

Vietnam Memorial Design Competition

The VVMF held a contest in order to select the design of the Vietnam Memorial. The contest started in October of 1980, and was open to all U.S. citizens aged 18 or older.

Design Requirements

VVMF sought entries that did not make a political statement about the war and that provided for the names of all U.S. military personnel who died in Vietnam to be inscribed on the wall. They also requested reflective and contemplative designs that would be in harmony with the overall location of the memorial and other national monuments located nearby.

Selection Process

The VVMF chose a panel of eight prominent designers and artists to judge the competition and choose a winner from the 1,421 entries. The final judging took place at an exhibition of all the entries at Andrews Air Force Base. The contest entry displays were identified only by number, and the panel unanimously chose entry 1026.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Designer

Maya Lin, a Yale University student, is the person who submitted the winning entry. The design Maya Lin submitted was used to create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. She was awarded a monetary prize for submitting the winning entry, along with a chance to assist the architect in preparing the design for its actual construction on the site.

Building the Vietnam Memorial Wall

The VVMF broke ground for the wall on March 26, 1982. Construction was completed in October of the same year. The memorial was formally dedicated on November 13, 1982, which is Veteran's Day. It has been open to the public since that time.

  • The wall and the walkway in front of it are built from black granite that was imported from Bangalore, India.
  • 70 individual panels comprise the wall's shape
  • The panels were cut and finished in Barre, Vermont, and still bear evidence of the techniques used, including flame treating and polishing.

Visiting the Vietnam Memorial

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is located on the northwest corner of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. It is open 24 hours per day, seven days per week. It is staffed by rangers of the National Park Service every day from 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is no fee to visit the wall. More than five million people visit each year. Visiting the Vietnam Memorial can be an extremely emotional and moving experience.

Key Facts About the Vietnam Memorial

The Three Servicemen statue at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Visiting the Vietnam Memorial is a somber experience. Visitors should conduct themselves respectfully throughout their time at the site. The Vietnam Memorial site consists of three structures and a memorial plaque.

  • The Vietnam Memorial Wall, also known as The Wall That Heals, is the first part and focal point of the memorial. This wall is where the names of those who perished in the Vietnam War are inscribed.
  • The Three Soldiers Statue was added to the site in 1984. Designed by Frederick Hart, this statue depicts three soldiers uniformed in Vietnam-era uniforms. It is a tribute to those who fought and returned.
  • Nine years later, in 1993, The Vietnam Women's Memorial, a sculpture designed by Glenna Goodacre, was unveiled at the site. It honors the women who served in the Vietnam War.
  • In 2004, the In Memory Plaque was added to the memorial. It honors and remembers those who died post-war due to service-related causes, such as Agent Orange exposure and PTSD-induced suicide.

Names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall

Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.

A total of 58,318 names of U.S. service members who perished in the Vietnam War are inscribed on the wall. As you walk along the 200-foot expanse of the wall, not only will you see the names of all the lives lost, but you'll also see your own reflection in the black granite from which the wall is constructed.

Name Placement

The names of the fallen service members are arranged in chronological order based on when they perished or were reported missing, proceeding from left to right on the right panel, continuing on the far side of the left panel, ending in the middle with the year 1975. This placement represents the full circle of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, continuing even beyond troop withdrawal in relation to the discovery of remains even after U.S. forces withdrew from Vietnam.

Finding Specific Names

Walking the length of the wall provides a unique perspective on the enormous loss of life associated with this war. Resources are available for visitors who want to find the name of a specific individual, such as a relative or friend who was lost during the war.

  • A directory lists the location of names by panel number and line. It specifies whether the panel is part of the east (right) or west (left) wall.
  • All the memorial's wall panels are numbered. A dot marks every tenth line to assist visitors seeking to find a particular name based on its location.

Symbols Accompanying Names

Each name is marked with a symbol that indicates the service person's status. A diamond symbol indicates a confirmed death in combat. Service members who were missing at the end of the war have a cross symbol next to their names; if they returned home alive, there is a circle around their cross. For initially missing soldiers who were later confirmed to have perished, there is a diamond symbol above their cross.

The Wall of Faces: A Virtual Memorial

You don't have to go to Washington, D.C. to see a depiction of the many lives lost during the Vietnam War. The VVMF also maintains a virtual memorial honoring U.S. service members who died in the Vietnam War. They maintain The Wall of Faces, a virtual wall featuring photos and key information about each individual who is depicted on the wall. Site visitors can use a searchable online database to find specific individuals.

Exploring Key Vietnam Memorial Facts

The Vietnam Memorial is an important tribute to those who fought in the Vietnam War, especially those who paid with their lives. Visiting this monument, along with other U.S. war memorials, is a moving experience that provides unique insights into the high cost of fighting for freedom and democracy. Visiting this location is a powerful and meaningful way for people to pay their respects to soldiers and other military personnel who sacrificed so much in the Vietnam War.

Vietnam Memorial Historical Facts and Design