10 November 2007

The Wall: Vietnam Memorial 25th Anniversary

Photo Joe Gromelski / S&S.

25 Years of Vietnam Offerings

WASHINGTON — They are lined up like footnotes to the names etched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial's polished black granite, leaning against its base, some a collective tribute to the fallen, others bearing a message for just one of the dead.

An American Legion uniform cap from Kansas, a police patch from a town in Georgia, a note to "GRAMDADAD" that appears to have been written by the unpracticed hand of a young child. A homemade plaque with plastic red poppies pasted to it, dedicated to a "Band of Brothers." Poems from middle school students.

"We met once when you played golf with my dad," reads one note, written hastily on a piece of yellow notebook paper, addressed to a Major Shaw. "You served together in Vietnam. He made it back to us. I'm saying goodbye."

Since the memorial was completed in 1982, it has become a de facto shrine with more than 100,000 offerings for the dead and messages from survivors left by the millions who visit it each year. (...)

The practice wasn't foreseen by the memorial's planners, but the first offering came even before the monument was completed, a Purple Heart laid in the foundation by the brother of a dead soldier.

At the beginning, a memorial staffer collected the items on the belief that people would want them back.

When they continued to pile up, with little sign of abating, the Park Service decided in 1986 to treat the items as museum pieces.

"It was unheard of for people to come to a site over a protracted period of time and leave objects," said Duery Felton, the collection curator and a Vietnam veteran. "These objects became a collection. Before that, they were just things left at the memorial." (...)

Park Service workers collect the mementoes every few days and ship them to a temperature-controlled warehouse in an office park in suburban Landover, Md., about 20 miles away.

Each piece is catalogued. Some are kept in locked cabinets, others alongside long shelves of antique furniture from other historic sites. (...)

"It is a beautiful thing," [Jan Scruggs, a veteran who came up with the idea for the memorial and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund] said. "It shows that those who we know and who were a part of our lives and who aren't with us any more still have an impact on us."

Thanks to Richard of Blue Star Riders for the link.

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