The Vietnam Veterans Memorial stands as a symbol of America's honor and recognition of the men and women who served and sacrificed their lives in the Vietnam War. Inscribed on the black granite walls are the names of more than 58,000 men and women who gave their lives or remain missing. The Memorial is dedicated to honor the courage, sacrifice and devotion to duty and country of all who answered the call to serve during one of the most divisive wars in U.S. history.
The Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Fund, Inc. is the nonprofit organization authorized by Congress in 1980 to fund and build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The organization sought a tangible symbol of recognition from the American people for those who served in the war. By separating the issue of individuals serving in the military during the Vietnam era and U.S. policy carried out there, VVMF began a process of national healing. The Memorial was dedication on Nov. 13, 1982 and attracts more than 5.6 million visitors each year.
The Memorial was established by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc. (VVMF), the nonprofit, charitable organization incorporated on April 27, 1979, by a group of Vietnam veterans led by Jan C. Scruggs, a wounded and decorated infantryman, from Bowie, Maryland.
VVMF wanted Vietnam veterans to have a tangible symbol of recognition from the American people. By separating the issue of the service of the individual men and women from the issue of U.S. policy in Vietnam, VVMF hoped to begin a process of national reconciliation.
Significant initial support came from U.S. Senators Charles McC. Mathias, Jr., (R-Md.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.). On Nov. 8, 1979, Sen. Mathias introduced legislation to authorize a site of national park land for the memorial. The first significant financial contributions to launch the national fundraising campaign were raised by Sen. Warner.
More than $8,000,000 was raised, all of which came from private sources. Corporations, foundations, unions, veterans groups and civic organizations contributed, but most importantly, more than 275,000 individual Americans donated the majority of the money needed to build the Memorial.
On July 1, 1980, Congress authorized a site of three acres in Constitution Gardens near the Lincoln Memorial. In October of that year, VVMF announced a national design competition open to any U.S. citizen over 18 years of age. By Dec. 29, 1980, there were 2,573 registrants, and the competition became the largest of its kind ever held in the United States.
By the March 31, 1981 deadline, 1,421 design entries had been submitted. All entries were judged anonymously by a jury of eight internationally recognized artists and designers who had been selected by VVMF. On May 1, 1981, the jury presented its unanimous selection for first prize, which was accepted and adopted enthusiastically by VVMF.
The winning design was the work of Maya Ying Lin of Athens, Ohio, a 21-year-old senior at Yale University. In August of 1981, VVMF selected a building company and architecture firm to develop the plans and build Lin's design. Lin became a design consultant to the architect of record.
On March 11, 1982, the design and plans received final federal approval, and work at the site was begun on March 16, 1982. Ground was formally broken on Friday, March 26, 1982.