This post is a guide to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, known popularly as "The Vietnam Wall", with tips on how to find particular names.
- Memorial Design Explained
- How to Find a Name
- Leaving Items at the Wall
- Tours and Ranger Talks
- Plan Your Visit
- Other DC Memorials
HISTORY OF THE MEMORIAL
If you have the time, we strongly urge you to watch the video above. If not, here is a very brief history of the memorial.
In 1979, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund was established. Jan Scruggs, a wounded veteran himself, was the voice behind its creation.
After $8.4 million was raised through private donations, Congress commissioned for the memorial to be built at a site near the Lincoln Memorial.
A nationwide 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 a class on funeral design architecture 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 in the U.S.
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 choice as the designer was also personally criticized for her ethnicity as a Chinese-American.
The memorial differed from the other classical structures in the capital in many ways.
The black granite was chosen due to its reflective nature. As you walk down into the memorial you'll see yourself amongst the names and feel a connection to those lost.
The chevron shape of the memorial lines up in a way that one arm points to the Washington Monument and the other to the Lincoln Memorial, with names rising up around you as you walk through.
Just as the Vietnam War had divided the country, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial garnered many outspoken opinions of both praise and antipathy.
In an effort of compromise, a statue was placed next to the memorial. Referred to as the 'Three Servicemen Statue", it depicts three infantrymen gazing toward the Wall.
This statue was decided in 1984, two years after the original dedication. it is located near the west end of the Wall by the flagpole.
Another statue, the Vietnam Veterans Women's Memorial (sometimes called the Nurses' Memorial), was added in 1993.
It is located at the east end of the memorial.
It depicts three women: one holding a fallen soldier, one kneeling with his helmet, and another standing as if she is looking for a rescue helicopter.
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 or by date of missing in action, beginning and ending in the center where the two walls meet.
Although the memorial walls are shaped like wings, it reads like a circle with the name of the first official 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, beginning again at the far end of the west wing, and concluding at the center with the date 1975.
If there were more than one casualty on a particular day, those names are listed alphabetically.
Each panel is labeled at the bottom with a number from 1 to 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 nearest 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.
Ways to find a name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall:
- Download "The Wall," an extremely useful app created by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to help visitors locate names. However, please be aware that names need to be typed in without error (including proper capitalization) or else it will not come up in searches.
- Find the location of a name online. TheWall-USA is a great source, as well as View The Wall.
- Use the books on either end of the memorial walls. Names in the books are listed alphabetically and provide details of that person's place of birth and branch of service, as well as which wall, panel, and row that they are located on, making it easy to find a name.
- Ask a National Park Service Ranger! If you don't see a ranger at the Wall, then walk over to the Ranger Stand and inquire about locating a name - they're always more than happy to help!
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.
HOW TO TAKE A RUBBING OF A NAME
Many who visit leave with a rubbing of a beloved's name.
The tradition involves placing a sheet of paper over the recessed lettering and using the side of a pencil or piece of charcoal to create the rubbing.
Oftentimes the National Park Rangers can provide both materials, though it is wise to keep a standard lead pencil on hand in case there are none available.
If the name is out of reach, the Park Rangers and volunteers can use a ladder to climb up and take the rubbing for you.
Throughout the years, tens of thousands of mementos have been left at the Vietnam Wall.
Items range from smaller keepsakes such as letters, photos, and dog tags, all the way to a brand new custom made Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Image from History.net
It is believed that tradition started when the brother of a veteran killed in Vietnam left his Purple Heart, which had been awarded to his brother posthumously, in the wet cement of the Wall.
National Park Service Rangers collect all of the nonperishable items at the end of every night and have been keeping them over the years.
Today, they are all stored in a large warehouse in Maryland. Some are on display in the "America at War" section of the Smithsonian American History Museum.
Jan Scruggs, the man who initially envisioned there being a Vietnam Veterans Memorial, is now part of a team that is trying to establish a museum near the Wall to showcase the many items that have been left.
There is no shortage of private companies that offer tours that include the WWII Memorial, including us, DC by Foot.
The memorial is a stop on 2 of our most popular walking tours.
- National Mall Tour
- National Mall and Tidal Basin Tour
The memorial is also a part of our anytime GPS-led audio tour of the National Mall.
Park Rangers, as well as volunteers, provide daily “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.
We have included a video of one of the best, Allen McCabe. 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.
PLAN YOUR VISIT
Controversial and received mixed reviews at its dedication in 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has since become one of the country's most visited and well-respected memorials.
The memorial features the names of more than 58,000 Americans who sacrificed their lives in service to their country.
The memorial is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year unless inclement weather prevents it.
The Vietnam Wall is not meant to be viewed at night but it is open and has some lighting. It is not well lit which takes away from the design of the memorial.
However, if the evening is the only time you have to visit, it is worth a visit and is safe at night.
How to Get Here
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is located on the northwest side of the National Mall.
If you are considering a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket while in DC, then note that all companies stop at this memorial as well as other types of bus tours.
Closest Metro Station
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) from the Metro station to the memorial.
There is only one exit at Foggy Bottom which lets you out on 23rd Street.
When you exit the Metro station, make an immediate right turn onto 23rd Street, and follow that down until you reach Constitution Avenue and the Lincoln Memorial is directly in front of you.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial will be to your left, but you won't immediately notice it until you are approaching it.
If Metro’s Red Line is most convenient for you, you could exit at Farragut North Metro Station. From there, it’s about a 25-min walk to the memorial.
Take the K St. exit and walk south on 17th Street until you reach Constitution Ave. Make a right turn and the memorial is a 5-minute walk on your left.
DC Circulator Bus
Alternatively, you could take the DC Circulator Bus, which has a National Mall route. The Circulator is now free and makes stops at various memorials and monuments.
However, the bus doesn't have a stop at the WW2 Memorial.
You would need to get off at either the Washington Monument or the MLK Memorial stops. Both stops require just a 5-minute walk.
There is very limited street parking nearby. 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.
You can also pay for a space in a garage ahead of time through a service called SpotHero.
Due to its central location on the National Mall, the World War 2 Memorial is nearby several other popular attractions.
- Washington Monument
- MLK Memorial
- Lincoln Memorial
- Korean War Veterans Memorial
- World War 2 Memorial
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Be sure to read our guide to all memorials and monuments in Washington, DC.