Ground was broken on this date in 1982 for a memorial to the soldiers who died in the Vietnam War, only two weeks after the selection committee had approved the winning design.
More than 1,400 designs had been submitted and all were displayed anonymously, so the committee would not be influenced by whatever they might know about the entrant.
Without that anonymity, it’s quite possible that a 21-year-old Yale student – female at that – would not have been chosen as the designer of the memorial.
Unfortunately for architect/artist Maya Lin, almost everyone hated it, especially the veterans of the war – they commissioned another memorial entirely. By the time the memorial was finished, she had endured an enormous amount of criticism – some of it quite vicious – for her simple, unassuming design.
But the years have proved her genius. The simple basalt slab, polished to a reflective surface and engraved with the names of all those who died between 1955 and 1975, has become a much-loved icon. So loved in fact, that a traveling Wall was created to bring the memorial to those who couldn’t get to DC – and that in turn prompted calls for more, so that now there are four half-size walls that travel the country.
The Vietnam Veterans War Memorial was the brainchild of a vet named Jan Scruggs, who started a fund for a memorial with $2,800 of his own money. About the design, Scruggs has said that it is more than a memorial: ‘It has become a shrine.’