After 25 years, the Wall speaks volumes

The first two Americans to die in the Vietnam conflict. The first of 58,000 more to come.

Retired generals, veterans, mothers, daughters, sons and widows began reading each of the 58,256 names etched on the black granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Wednesday, part of the memorial’s 25th-anniversary celebration.

“The names have become the memorial,” said Jan Scruggs, the veteran who in 1979 started pushing for the creation of the Wall. He is the president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

Nearly 2,000 volunteers will spend 65 hours through Saturday reading each name in chronological order, only the fourth time it has been done since the Wall’s dedication on Nov. 13, 1982, when the names were first read across town at the National Cathedral.

“We are making the time to pay respect,” said retired Brig. Gen. George Price, one of the men who helped settle the controversy surrounding the memorial’s design in 1981. At his suggestion, a statue of three soldiers and a flagpole were added to the site.

Before this week, Vietnam veteran Bob Grimm had seen only pictures of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The Waynesville, Ohio, resident served in the Air Force in Vietnam in 1966 and ’67, though his military career stretched until 1984. This week, the retired tech sergeant decided it was finally the right time to visit some old friends.

Slowly climbing the pathway toward the end of the V-shaped memorial, where the Wall shrinks from 10 feet at its peak to 8 inches, Grimm called it “sobering.”

“It’s awesome to see all the guys,” he said, his eyes red from tears.

Even after 25 years, the Wall packs an emotional punch.

The usual bustle of the monument stilled when a bugler played taps before the name-reading ceremony Wednesday. Schoolchildren, families, spectators and passersby paused for the somber piece, everyone’s gaze fixed on the Wall.

Then Hank Cramer, Harry Cramer’s son, read the first two names on the Wall — his father’s and that of another man, who died in 1956 and 1957. He was followed by author Stanley Karnow, who covered the conflict for Time magazine and wrote a definitive book about the war; Gordon Mansfield, Department of Veterans Affairs acting secretary; Mary Jane Kiepe, Gold Star Mothers president; and retired Gen. Joe Ralston, former commander of NATO forces.

Mansfield spoke earlier in the ceremony about the immense importance of the Wall, both as a means for the nation to heal after the divisive conflict and as a way to ensure that the soldiers who died will not be lost to history.

“As long as this Wall stands, they will always be remembered,” he said.

For Scruggs, the monument has already remained far more culturally significant than he imagined in 1982.

“We thought the memorial would be a big draw initially, but that then it would become a fraternal thing,” Scruggs said at a Wednesday news conference.

He envisioned that, five or 10 years after construction, the only visitors would have served in the military or otherwise had a personal connection to one of the names on the Wall. Instead, more than 4 million people visit each year.

“This has changed the way America mourns, changed the way the public deals with trauma,” he said.


  1. Steve Horn

    The Wall. I’m not given to public displays of emotion, but I’ve been to the wall a few times, and when I see the names of friends who had their lives cut short by a senseless, micro-managed war I can’t help myself. I get the same reaction when I hear the names of those kids who have lost their lives in Iraq, as they are only pawns in the game. A seneseless game, started by George W. Bush who then lacked and continues to lack the courage to stand up for what America really is when his country has called.



  2. bryan mcclellan

    As I stood before the wall for the first time it was as if I had been swept up in a surreal dream.The names of the fallen seemed to pulsate in an eerie Twilight Zone flashback.This cannot be happening I reasoned, and time and space seemed suspended for an eternity.I could not find the vision to read them individually as they all cried out to me,Your job is to see that this is never allowed to happen again.Here I am 25 years later,shamed that I haven’t been back,and filled with self repugnance knowing that I ignored the pleas of my brethren. I plan to visit them this weekend,if I can find the courage to take the endless walk down that hill.I wonder ,will they welcome me, or turn away at the sight of one who has failed them so miserably?

  3. Carl Nemo

    The Nam era as now represents an example of MIC monsters controlling both the MSM and our elected leaders. To these cynical, evil, CEO’s that control these camp-following corporations, the common man and his kin are nothing but cannon fodder. They and their kin rarely if ever end up fighting in the wars they both foment, support and maintain simply for the maintenance of their bottom line; so to them it’s simply the “big ka-ching” as then, as now…!

    Every incumbent and I mean every one of them needs to be thrown out on their ear when they come up for re-election, even the few that might have voted occasionally on the right side. Washington needs to be flushed bigtime since a mighty blockage of elected corruption has accumulated in the halls of Congress stopping up the business of government for the greater benefit of “we the people”…!

    If they fail to listen to the electorate that’s given them the privilege of serving, then they need to be kicked out. They as a body have become quite expensive to maintain while being worthless to our collective needs. They sell us out daily for the benefit of the few; ie., wealthy elitists, at the expense of the many…us!

    Carl Nemo **==

  4. bryan mcclellan

    Go to the head of the class Mr.Nemo.Suddenly we should all feel, not so common.Cannon fodder ,indeed? They told me we were cops.