At the age of twenty one, a female undergraduate at Yale University named Maya Lin submitted her design for the Vietnam Memorial. Her idea for the memorial was extremely unique and controversial. After long discussions by a panel, it was chosen for construction. The design that she submitted was one that was very different in comparison to other memorials, and it was one that has a tendency to leave a lot of questions on the minds of the visitors. On the face of the memorial there is a list of all those who died or are missing in the order by which they were lost. It could seem to some one who did not understand the incident that the monument honors only those lost, but that is incorrect. Maya Lin¹s design formed into the most unique memorial structure of its kind, which honors all who served in the Vietnam War (Colliers 23: 137).
The official name given to the monument was the Vietnam Veterans memorial. In this name alone it is clear that it was not erected for the sole purpose of honoring only those who were lost in the conflict. The term KIA was the abbreviation used for those people who were killed in action, and these people represent 47,000 of the 58,000 names on the wall. The other 11,000 were soldiers who died from crashes, snake bites, illnesses, and other non-combat related deaths (Olson 227). There is no distinction made between the two groups on the monument. The structure is a v-shaped polished granite slab that unlike other monuments has no message of honor or patriotism. All of those subjects are left to the thoughts of the beholder. People often find therapy in locating the name of a companion or a loved one. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is by far the most emotional moving war monument in Washington, and that alone makes it very unique(Collier¹s 138).
In comparison with other monuments, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is vastly different. A point of comparison could be the Marine Corps War Memorial, otherwise known as the Iwo Jima monument. This monument is a sculpture of three soldiers risking their lives to keep the American flag flying. The structure has a deep sense of understood patriotism and there is a great deal of honor that is also associated with it. Unlike the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Iwo Jima monument is a tribute only to the Marines who served in World War Two. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has no such message of honor and courage, but rather an atmosphere that causes visitors to reflect on the conflict (Colliers 138-139).
The only monument that is similar the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is the memorial to Ulysses S. Grant. It is located at the foot of the capital and has no clear cut meaning. There is no political message that can be taken away from Grant¹s memorial. It neither glorifies war nor possesses an antiwar message, and there is no moral lesson that can be taken away from this monument (Colliers 138). One of the great things about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is that it allows the public to form its own opinion of the conflict with out forcing a political message. It is because of this ambiguity that the monument is so unique.
Unlike other monuments, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial can not be seen from a distance. One must commit to see it, and then walk down to it. This is just the opposite of other monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial which were created to show the men on a higher God-like platform. Also, it is not at all uncommon to find men and women alike weeping at the base of the monument (Colliers 138-139) Cynics could argue and say they morn only for their loved ones, and were not moved by the power of the monument, but this is not always the case. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is an experience that affects thousands of people daily, and changes the lives of almost as many. This is a characteristic that no other war monument in the country seems to posses.
The first inscription on the wall reads ³IN HONOR OF THE MEN AND WOMEN OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES WHO SERVED IN THE VIETNAM WAR. THE NAMES OF THOSE WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES AND OF THOSE WHO REMAIN MISSING ARE INSCRIBED IN THE ORDER THEY WERE TAKEN FROM US² . The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is also unique in the sense that is honors all who fought, as most monuments honor only those who died. >From this one could imply that the veterans were not sufficiently honored by the people of America. (Colliers 139-140)
It is clear that the erection of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was a wonderful addition to the Washington Mall of monuments. There is some disagreement as to the exact meaning of the monument, but that is because in was designed for that very purpose. Maya Lin was quoted to say that she wanted a ³quiet place, meant for personal reflection and private reckoning² (Colliers 139) That was exactly what she gave to the country in her unique interpretation of what the monument should be.