Extremely controversial and widely ill-received at its dedication in 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has since become one of the country’s most visited and well-respected memorials. The Vietnam Memorial Wall features the names of more than 58, 000 men and women who sacrificed their lives in service to their country.
Getting to the Vietnam Memorial Wall
- Metro The closest Metro station to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is Foggy Bottom (Blue-Orange-Silver). It’s about a 15 to 20 minute walk (directions), depending on your speed, from the Metro station to the Memorial. There is only one exit at Foggy Bottom which lets you out on 23rd Street. Just come out of the metro, make an immediate right onto 23rd Street, and follow that down until you reach Constitution Avenue and the Lincoln Memorial is directly in front of you.
- Parking: There is very limited street parking nearby. Alternatively, free parking can be found all along Ohio Drive (green lines), just to the south of the Lincoln Memorial. Just be patient, as visitors are coming and going frequently, so you will eventually get a spot there.
Hours and Accessibility
The memorial is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, unless inclement weather prevents it. Additionally, please note that, though the memorial is open after dark and is illuminated, it is not as well lit as many of the other memorials and a name may be more difficult to find.
Tours of the Vietnam Memorial Wall
- Ranger Talks – Park Rangers provide “interpretive programs” on the hour every hour from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m. The enjoyment factor depends greatly on who is giving the tour, as some rangers seem more interested than others, but they are usually all very informative. These talks are free.
- App – The Park Service also offers a visitor’s app for the National Mall for both Android and iPhone.
- Traveling Wall – Can’t make it to Washington, DC? There is a traveling wall that is a 3/5 sized replica of the original Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Check the Traveling Wall website to see if it’s coming to a city near you.
History of the Vietnam Memorial Wall
In 1979, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund was established. Jan Scruggs, a wounded veteran himself, was the voice behind its creation. After .4 million was raised through private donations, Congress commissioned for the memorial to be built at a site near the Lincoln Memorial.
A nation wide contest was held to select the memorial’s design. Over 1, 400 people submitted proposals, but one was unanimously selected. The winning design was done by a young woman named Maya Lin, a 21 year-old student at Yale University. Lin originally created the design as a final project for one of her classes, and received a B- on the work.
Ground broke on the memorial in March of 1982 and it was dedicated in November of that same year, becoming the first national veterans memorial. Though well received by many, the Wall was also heavily criticized. The post-modern structure differed greatly from the classic designs of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. Maya Lin was also personally criticized for her ethnicity as a Chinese-American. Just as the Vietnam War had divided the country, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial garnered many outspoken opinions of both praise and antipathy.
Today, the Wall stands as a highly respected icon of American sacrifice that is visited by millions each year.
The names are not listed alphabetically, but rather chronologically by date of death, beginning and ending in the center where the two walls meet. Though the Wall is shaped like wings — one stretching towards the Washington Monument, the other toward the Lincoln Memorial — it reads like a circle with the name of the first American casualty at the top of the east panel, beneath the date 1959.The names then continue down that east wing, make an invisible circle around, begin again at the far end of the west wing, and conclude at the center with the date 1975.
Each panel is labeled at the bottom with a number 1-70 and either an E or W. The number signifies the panel number (1 being in the center, 70 at the end) and E or W refers to east or west (east is nearer the Lincoln Memorial, west is nearer the Washington Monument). There are small dots placed at the edge of every tenth line, which makes it easier to locate a specific line. For example, if you were looking for a name on line 64, you’d start at the top of the panel, count down 6 dots, and that name will be located just 4 lines below the 6th dot.