By the Numbers: Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Memorial Day will see tens of thousands of people converging on the National Mall in our nation's capital. Many will visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and its iconic deep-vee black marble wall bearing the names of more than 58,000 American casualties.
Money contributed for construction of the memorial by corporations, foundations, unions, veterans, civic organizations, and more than 275,000 individuals. No federal funds were needed.
Visitors in 2009. The month of May, which features pleasant weather as well as the Memorial Day holiday, is consistently the highest- or second-highest visitation month of the year (656,459 in 2009).
Names, listed chronologically by date of death, that were on the wall of the memorial as of 2009. Additional names will be added each year on Memorial Day if the Department of Veterans Affairs certifies them.
Memorial designs submitted to the eight-person selection committee before the March 31, 1981, deadline for the design competition. The winning design, Maya Ying Lin's elegantly simple V-shaped wall of inscribed black granite, was entry number 1026.
Approximate number of names on the wall belonging to individuals presumed to be dead, but conditionally classified as Missing in Action (MIA) or Prisoner of War (POW). Unlike the names of individuals killed in action (KIA), which are marked with a diamond, these names are marked with a cross. If an MIA or POW were to be confirmed alive (something that hasn't yet happened), the cross next to that individual's name would be circumscribed by a circle. A diamond is superimposed on the cross if the individual is confirmed dead.
Total length of the east wall (which points at the Washington Monument) and the west wall (which points at the Lincoln Memorial). Each 246.75-foot long black granite wall has 70 inscribed granite panels and two small blank ones. At the apex, the largest panels (10.1 feet high) have 137 lines of names. The shortest inscribed panels bear just one line. Additions excepted, lines have five names each.
Angle at the vertex where the east and west walls meet. Symbolic of the "V" in Vietnam, the deep-vee formed in this way plunges below ground level.
Servicemen's names included on the wall even though they were killed in action after the official end of the Vietnam era. The very last names on the wall (panel 01W) are those of 18 marines killed on May 15, 1975, during the rescue operation that ended the Mayaguez incident in Cambodia. That's a week after the May 7, 1975, date that Congress established (Title 38 U.S. Code Section 101), and the Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes, as the official end of the Vietnam era.
at least 14
Living Vietnam veterans who had their names erroneously (and permanently) etched into the granite panels. One such survivor is said to have remarked “It’s like seeing your name on a gravestone.”
Names on the wall belonging to females who died in the Vietnam War. One died of shrapnel wounds suffered in a rocket attack, five died in helicopter or plane crashes, one succumbed to pneumonia, and one had a fatal stroke. All of these honored dead were nurses and commissioned officers.
Number of soldiers (one white, one African American, and one Hispanic ) depicted in the Frederick Hart bronze statue The Three Soldiers, and number of nurses ("Faith, Hope, and Charity") shown tending to a wounded soldier in the Glenna Goodacre-sculpted Vietnam Women's Memorial statue. Situated near the wall, the two dramatic sculptures were added to the memorial (in 1984 and 1993, respectively) to honor living Vietnam veterans as well as those who lost their lives in the war.
Total acreage of the memorial. You don't need a huge amount of space to make a hugely important statement about the cost of freedom.
Number of Harley-Davidson motorcycles included among the thousands of items that visitors have left at the memorial. The motorcycle, which has been cataloged and archived like other items left at the wall, bears a license plate reading "HERO."
Approximate depth of the inscriptions grit-blasted into the polished black granite. The letters are .53 inches high.
Number of bronze statues at the memorial commemorating Vietnam veterans who died after the war from injuries suffered in Vietnam or from suicide induced by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The memorial does have (since 2004) a plaque in the form of 3 x 2 foot block of black granite bearing the inscription: "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."
Postscript: The first casualty names inscribed on the wall were those of Dale R. Buis and Chester R. Ovnand (misspelled "Ovnad" on the wall), military advisors who were killed on July 8th, 1959. It was later decided that Army Captain Harry G. Cramer, who was killed on October 21, 1957, should be considered the first casualty of the Vietnam War. Cramer's name, which was added about a year after the Memorial was dedicated, is listed on panel 01E, line 78. Later still, officials decided that Air Force Technical Sgt. Richard B. Fitzgibbon, Jr., an advisor who was murdered in Vietnam on June 8, 1956, should be considered the first Vietnam era casualty. Sadly, Sgt. Fitzgibbon's son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Richard B. Fitzgibbon III, was also killed in Vietnam (on September 7, 1965). His name is listed on panel 02E, line 77 and his father's name is listed on panel 52E, line 21. There is at least one other father-son pair of names on the wall.