‘The Wall’ memorial an
inspirational place to visit
Volunteer Jones greets, soothes, helps visitors
in search of lost loved ones
December 2017 Cover
WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 2017) – After watching Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s excellent 10-part, 18-hour documentary, “The Vietnam War,” on PBS in September-October, I had the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C., over Veterans Day weekend, Nov. 10-11, and was inspired to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, otherwise known as “The Wall.”
I had visited the memorial several times over the years, but it had been many years since my last trip there.
Although controversial at the time of its dedication on Nov. 13, 1982, this moving and inspirational memorial has become one of the National Park Service’s most-visited sites along the National Mall, with an estimated 5.6 million annual visitors.
And so it was during this special 35th anniversary year for the memorial at a time when renewed interest has been generated in the war, prompted especially by Burns and Novick’s in-depth look at the period in our nation’s history. The PBS series began its initial run on PBS on Sept. 17, but the episodes continue to replay on PBS on certain nights throughout the week.
Facts About The Wall
Click here to see list of
local names on wall.
Each wall of the memorial is 246.75 feet long, and the angle at the vertex is 125 degrees and 12 minutes. There are 140 pilings with the average depth to bedrock at 35 feet. The height of the walls at the vertex is 10.1 feet. The granite comes from Bangalore, India. It was cut and fabricated at Barre, Vt. The names on The Wall were grit blasted in Memphis, Tenn. The height of the individual letters is .053 inches. The depth is .038 inches.
The names of eight women, all nurses, are inscribed on The Wall. Seven are from the U.S. Army, and one is from the Air Force.
Congress approved the site for The Wall in 1980. It also created the Vietnam War Memorial Fund to fund and select the design from a national competition open to any U.S. citizen 18 or older. The 1,421 design entries submitted were judged anonymously by a jury of eight internationally recognized artists and designers. The winning design announced on May 1, 1981, was unanimous: the work of Maya Ying Lin, 21, a Yale University student from Athens, Ohio.
The following January, it was determined that a flagstaff and figurine sculpture depicting fighting men in Vietnam would be added to the memorial site. Washington, D.C., sculptor Frederick Hart was selected to design the sculpture of the servicemen. It was dedicated in fall 1984.
The $7 million cost of The Wall and figurine sculpture was raised entirely from contributions from corporations, foundations, unions, veterans’ groups, civic organizations and more than 275,000 individual donations.
Later, on Nov. 11, 1993, a third figurine statue was established near The Wall to honor the women of the U.S. Armed Forces who took part in the Vietnam War. The statue was sculpted by Glenna Goodacre and depicts three women coming to the aid of a fallen soldier.
Resources to Explore:
• Learn more about Ken Burns’ epic 10-part series, “The Vietnam War” at www.pbs.org/kenburns/the-vietnam-war/home
• The National Archives’ exhibit, “Remembering Vietnam,” can be explored at www.NationalArchives.gov
• Read more about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., at www.nps.gov or search the Wall of Names at www.vvmf.org
• Learn more about the Sons and Daughters in Touch on Facebook or at www.SDIT.org
The documentary tells the epic story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history as it has never before been told on film. Visceral and immersive, the series explores the human dimensions of the war through revelatory testimony of nearly 80 witnesses from all sides – Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as combatants and civilians from North and South Vietnam.
Ten years in the making, the series includes rarely seen and digitally re-mastered archival footage from sources around the globe, photographs taken by some of the most celebrated photojournalists of the 20th century, historic television broadcasts, evocative home movies, and secret audio recordings from inside the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. “The Vietnam War” features more than 100 iconic musical recordings from greatest artists of the era and haunting original music as well.
When I approached The Wall on Friday, Nov. 10, a large crowd of people were circulating along its black granite stone, which sits in the shadows of the Lincoln Memorial near the far west end of the Reflecting Pool. A temporary stage had been set up in the grass in front of The Wall, where volunteers over a three-day period took turns reading the 58,318 names on The Wall – a 65-hour-long event that takes place every five years.
Several other events were planned to honor the veterans over that weekend, including an appearance at The Wall by Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday, Nov. 11, during a Veteran’s Day ceremony. The Wall’s architect Maya Ying Lin, also took part in a dinner on Nov. 10 in Washington to mark the monument’s 35th anniversary.
In addition, a new, free exhibit titled “Remembering Vietnam” opened Nov. 10, the day before Veteran’s Day, at the National Archives, located just off the National Mall at 700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The exhibit examines 12 critical episodes in the Vietnam War to provide a framework for understanding the decisions that led to war, events and consequences of the war, and its legacy (See story, Page 22).
Lin’s concept drew much initial criticism at the outset, primarily among Vietnam War veterans who considered the location in the somewhat remote, tree-covered corner of the National Mall and the cold inanimate wall concept as a gesture to hide it from view, just as the nation tried to forget the entire Vietnam War experience itself. But in time, the design began to take hold on people, due to its powerful presence, the emotion it generated among visitors and its eerie ability to reflect the faces of those peering into the names carved into the black, polished granite.
Lin described her concept of The Wall as a quiet protected place unto itself, yet harmonious with the site. In addition to the faces of onlookers, The Wall’s mirror-like surfaces reflect the surrounding trees, lawns and monuments.
Photo by Don Ward
The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., is especially crowded during Veterans’ Day weekend each year. A Veterans’ Day ceremony was held there Nov. 11 that was led by Vice President Mike Pence.
The V-shaped memorial’s corners point to the Washington Monument to the east and the nearby Lincoln Memorial to the west. Initially, the monument had 58,267 names inscribed into its face, but over the years, more names have been added. They are arranged in the order of the date of casualty, showing the war as a series of individual human sacrifices and giving each name a special place in history, Lin said at the time.
“The names would become the memorial,” she said.
The names begin at the vertex of the walls below the date of the first casualty and continue to the end of the east wall closest to the Washington Monument. They resume at the tip of the west end near the Lincoln Memorial and continue toward the middle. The names are listed alphabetically in groups on the date of casualty.
Each name is preceded by one of two symbols – a diamond or a cross. The diamond denotes that the individual has been declared deceased. The 780 people whose names are designated with a cross were either missing or prisoners at the end of the war and remain missing an unaccounted for. If a person returns alive, a circle, as a symbol of life, is inscribed around the cross. In the event an individual’s remains are returned or are otherwise accounted for, the diamond is superimposed over the cross.
A total of 46 names of fallen soldiers from the Kentuckiana area in and around Madison, Ind., are inscribed on the wall and are listed in the accompanying box. They are also listed at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website’s “Wall of Faces” (www.vvmf.org), where family members are encouraged to upload photos, stories and memories about their lost loved ones.
The “Wall of Faces” also provides an excellent resource for locating the exact location of each name on The Wall. Some of these profiles lack photos or complete information. Various volunteer veterans groups work to reach out to the families to update their soldier’s profiles online.
More than a volunteer
Photo by Don Ward
Pictured is a sampling of the many artifacts and photos left at the foot of The Wall by visitors. These items are collected and catalogued by the National Park Service.
During my visit to The Wall in November, I met Wayne A. Jones, a Gold Star son and National Park Service volunteer from Blairsville, Ga., who lost his father in Vietnam when he was a young boy of only 12. Standing 6-foot-4 today, this gentle giant of a man proudly displayed a patch of his late father’s 18th Aviation Company and carried with him the large book listing all the names and information about those inscribed on The Wall.
When visitors approach, Jones takes his time talking with each Vietnam War veteran or family member one-on-one, to help them locate their loved ones’ names on The Wall. He asks about their loved one’s service record; when they were killed; where they died. As he interacts with each person, he effectively draws them into conversations that often end in tears and hugs. Jones provides a steady hand and calm voice for these aging Vietnam War veterans trying to control their emotions at The Wall – many of them proudly wearing their Vietnam-era war jackets covered with military patches and clinging to grainy, black- and-white photos of their lost comrades in arms.
Jones, 62, a retired custom home builder, never served in the military himself, but he has a knack for engaging those who have and the families who come to The Wall seeking answers and healing from their painful losses.
“I meet people from all over the world, and each one of them has a personal story about The Wall,” said Jones, who grew up in Saranac Lake, N.Y. “It’s my job to listen.”
During our discussion, Jones pulls from his coat a small photo of his father, Chief Warrant Officer Wayne E. Jones, who died on Aug. 17, 1967, at age 33. “He was shot down on Dragon Mountain, Pleiku, in Vietnam,” Jones says.
Photo by Don Ward
A young girl on Nov. 10 takes her turn reading the names of the 58,314 people listed on the Vietnam War Memorial.
He has since visited Vietnam, as have many children of soldiers killed in the war. Jones even visited the approximate site of his father’s crash.
The elder Jones was a fixed wing pilot in the U.S. Army flying the largest single engine aircraft in the Army inventory, the DeHavilland of Canada U1-a Otter. He died late in the day on Aug. 17 flying in bad weather. His co-pilot Wo Don Harger, crew chief Sp5 Joseph Benson, and passenger Pfc. Ronald J. Johnson also died. The crash site of Otter 702 was not found until Sept. 6, 1967.
The elder Jones earlier had served as a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1950-1954 and held the Korean Service Medal. From 1960-1964, he was an Alaska State Trooper. But his love of flying caused him to enlist in the Army in order to fly full time.
After flight school, he was assigned to the 22nd Signal Group in Karlsruhe, Germany, but after only 14 months received orders for Vietnam. Jones was awarded the Air Medal with 6th-9th Oak Leave clusters and the Bronze Star Medal (posthumously). He left behind a wife and five children.
His son, Wayne A. Jones, first began volunteering with the National Park Service at the Vietnam Memorial four years ago after having visited a traveling version of The Wall in 1987 when it was in Houston. Jones was living in Texas at the time and decided it was time to take an active role in paying tribute to his father. He also wanted to help other Gold Star sons and daughters learn to cope with their loss – even these many years later.
“Back then, nobody wanted to talk about the war. People were ashamed,” he said. “When I first visited that traveling wall, I saw how overwhelming it was for families. I wanted to help people deal with their emotions and lost loved ones from that war.”
Jones began volunteering at The Wall in Washington, D.C., in 1988 and has since done so every Memorial Day and Veterans Day weekends. His wife, Barbara Salvette, visits her son in nearby Alexandria, Va., and Jones spends the weekend working at The Wall. He has since become a National Park Service trainer of other volunteers at The Wall.
“Although my own father is on The Wall, it’s not about me. I don’t talk about him unless people ask. I try to engage people to talk about the loved ones that they lost.”
Jones also does the rubbing of names for those who are not able or if the name is too high to reach. Only NPS volunteers are allowed to climb the ladders to reach those names. “And since we do so many of them, we tend to do a better job,” he said. “A lot of people who come to The Wall don’t know anyone listed on The Wall, but they still want to participate and learn the power of the memorial. It’s very overwhelming.”
This year, Jones had a special treat when a nurse who had known his father in Vietnam contacted him through the “Wall of Faces” website and traveled from her home in Lansing, Mich., to meet him. “We met for the first time at The Wall, and she told me stories about my dad. It was a great homecoming.”
Jones also took several turns at the microphone over the weekend to read more than 30 names from The Wall.
Helping other veterans’ families get involved
Jones is a founding member of the Sons and Daughters in Touch, a nonprofit organization of Gold Star children of Vietnam War soldiers killed or lost in the war. According to its website, the group’s mission is “to locate, unite and provide support to the Gold Star sons and daughters and other family members of those who died or remain missing as a result of the Vietnam War; to produce a periodic e-newsletter providing important information to all SDIT stakeholders; to promote healing via networking and special projects, to regularly address other Gold Star family organizations, high schools and college classes in hopes of providing education on the historical and emotional legacy of war.”
Photo by Don Ward
A couple tries to photograph a name high above on The Wall during their visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Nov. 10.
The organization was founded in 1990. Before its founding, the children who lost their fathers in the Vietnam War had very few resources to help them understand their profound, emotional experience. Many grew to adulthood wondering if they could somehow be the only one to have endured such a loss.
Jones urges family members of those soldiers lost in Vietnam War to make an effort to write on the “Wall of Faces” website and update the profiles of those listed. He wants people to visit The Wall in Washington, D.C., and tell their stories. And he wants to feel proud to know – and share with others – that his own father’s sacrifice to his country in an unpopular war was not made in vain.
Among the 58,315 Americans lost in Southeast Asia, it is estimated that more than one-third were fathers. From the late 1950s through the early 1970s, about 20,000 Gold Star children were left to wonder why daddy wasn’t coming home. Today, these “sons and daughters” have become the living legacies of their fathers and are shining examples of American resilience. By perpetuating the healing inspired by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the group is teaching the cost of war and setting an example for younger generations of Gold Star children.
Jones, meanwhile, appears in a recently released documentary titled “They Were Our Fathers,” a film by Gold Star daughter Jill Hubbs. The documentary, which initially began airing on various PBS stations on Aug. 6, shares the stories and memories of lost Vietnam soldiers as told by members of Sons and Daughters in Touch. The group gathers in the nation’s capital on Father’s Day to honor their fathers, reflect on their common grief and support one another like no one else can.
Jones not only appears in the film but also reads a poem he wrote about his own personal loss near the end. The documentary can be viewed in its entirety online at www.pbs.org or www.wsre.org, a public broadcast station in Pensacola, Fla., where Hubbs works as Director of Education Content and Services.
On Veterans Day weekend this year, Hubbs attended a dinner in Washington, D.C, to mark the 35th anniversary of The Wall and presented architect Lin with a copy of the documentary. Jones and his wife also attended that event.
“So many Vietnam War veterans are dying, and when they’re gone, the history they carry will be lost,” Jones said. “It’s so important that we reach out to them now before it’s too late.”
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