The Vietnam Memorial is one of the most iconic and most visited memorials on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
It’s minimalist design, in comparison to the monuments for the other wars, is striking in its simplicity. It is an angular, deep wound in the earth. Silence pervades its surroundings as thousands wander in front of it.
It is not uncommon to see Vietnam veterans, or their families standing quietly before a certain section of The Wall, or touching a single name, or taking a rubbing of a name. The Vietnam Memorial Wall is a profound statement of loss, but an even greater one of honor and respect to those who served in that war.
There are over 58,000 names of men and women who died in action in Vietnam etched deeply into the dark, polished, mirror-like surface of that monument that is simply known as “The Wall” to Vietnam veterans. Its installation in 1981 went a long way toward helping Vietnam veterans to heal from their wartime experiences and, more importantly, from the rejection and bitter ridicule they received when they came home.
But The Wall does not tell the whole story of the sacrifices and losses that are part of the Vietnam veteran reality. In 2004, another element was added to the grounds of the Vietnam Memorial in the form of a simple bronze plaque dedicated to the memory of those Vietnam veterans who came home from the war but later died from the effects of Agent Orange exposure, PTSD/suicide, cancer and other illnesses related to their service in Vietnam.
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Because of Department of Defense guidelines their names are not eligible for being etched into the Vietnam Memorial Wall. The plaque reads simply: “In memory of the men and women who served in the Vietnam War and later died as a result of their service. We honor and remember their sacrifice.”
This plaque was placed by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s (VVMF), “In Memory” program, created in 1993 by Friends of the Vietnam Memorial. VVMF began managing the program and hosting the annual induction ceremonies at the Vietnam Memorial in 1999. Since the plaque was laid, over 3,600 names have been added to the “In Memory” rolls.
This year, on June 15, 2019, 529 new names will be added to the “In Memory” roll. These men and women came home suffering from the physical and often the soul shattering effects of their wartime experiences. They did not die from direct combat wounds, but from lingering deterioration of their bodies caused by the vast applications of the defoliant known to us as Agent Orange, which only recently has begun to be addressed more diligently by the VA, the U.S. government and the chemical companies that produced it.
Multiple diseases have been linked to that chemical agent from diabetes to several kinds of cancer. It has also been proven to affect the children and the grandchildren of Vietnam veterans.
The effects of war are not only physical. There are thousands of Vietnam veterans who have suffered the troubling and lingering effects of PTSD. It was not even officially recognized by the VA as a problem for Vietnam vets until some twenty years after the war.
Veterans were not being treated for it throughout that whole period. That has also contributed to the large number of Vietnam veterans who have succumbed to suicide over the last 5 decades.
The addition this year of the 529 new names to the over 3,600 already on the “In Memory” rolls is a clear indication that there will yet be many more names added in the future.
The Veterans Site expresses its thanks to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the “In Memory” program for making it possible to honor those who have fallen and continue to fall as a result of their service in the Vietnam War. They too deserve our honor, our respect, and our thanks for the sacrifices they have made on behalf of the nation.
You may go to the VVMF website to look up names, see pictures and short biographical sketches of those who are currently listed on the “In Memory” rolls.
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.