When your Washington monument tour takes you to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, you’ll be seeing two different monuments. The first is the Memorial Wall, two large granite slabs engraved with the names of those who died in the war. The other part is the Three Soldiers statue, which was added afterward when the wall itself proved too grim an image for the public. While the memorial was controversial when it was first designed and constructed, public opinion has gradually improved. Today, it’s considered one of the more evocative monuments in Washington.
The Memorial Wall was designed by a young sculptor named Maya Lin, who beat out almost 2500 other designers when she was chosen. A follower of the Land Art movement, Lin envisioned the black granite walls representing a “wound that is closed and healing.” While the design was popular among the monument selection committee, some public officials felt it was too morbid or solemn, referring to it as a “black gash of shame.” Lin’s Asian ethnicity was also a source of controversy; although she was born and raised in the US, some opposed her design on racist grounds.
However, Lin refused to yield to the pressure and stood by her design. Finally, a compromise was reached; the Memorial Wall would be built as planned, but a bronze sculpture would join it in the more traditional heroic fashion. Today, the two memorials stand as two parts of a single whole, one part mourning the lost and celebrating their bravery.
Interested in seeing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for yourself? It’s one of many monuments that appear on Action Tour Guide’s Washington DC Monuments Self-Guided Walking Tour.