A contest was advertised to design a memorial for the Vietnam War. The prize was $50,000. One thousand four hundred and twenty-one designs were submitted. The designs were displayed at Andrews Air Force Base. A jury of eight architects and sculptors perused the designs, which had no names on them, just numbers. They narrowed the number down to 232, then 39. The jury selected entry number 1026.
The winning design belonged to Maya Lin, a 21 year old Yale University student from Athens, Ohio. While her design was well-received by all of the jury members, she was not well-received by all Americans as she was of Asian descent. It had only been six years since the Fall of Saigon and the memories of the war were too fresh for some Americans. They wanted to paint all Asians with the same brush.
Maya Lin courtesy www.dispatch.com.
Construction on the memorial began in early 1982. The design called for two black granite walls, each with 72 panels. On the panels would be engraved the names of 58,195 American servicemen either killed in action or missing in action. A walkway was added to provide visitors the opportunity to walk up and down the wall and view all of the names.
Controversy brewed over Maya Lin's unorthodox war memorial. As a compromise, a statue was added called "The Three Soldiers" to complement the wall in 1984.
Sadly, for those veterans who survived the Vietnam War, many did not receive a warm welcome home from their fellow Americans: amputees and shell-shocked veterans were ignored; servicemen were spit on or called "baby killers". Some even tried to remove the Vietnam War from the public's memory. One lady on wiki.answers.com said that when she visited Oregon, she toured a museum which had a display for every American conflict except the Vietnam War.
Time has healed some of the wounds. As we walked along the wall this past week, visitors were showing a quiet respect for the veterans. The occasional person stopped to lay a flag or a flower on the walkway.
Architect Maya Lin has gone on to do more great things: she received her doctorate in 1986; she designed the civil rights memorial in Montgomery, Alabama in 1989; and she recently opened the Maya Lin Studio in New York City. And to think that it all started with a contest.