America’s Legacy of Service by Jan C. Scruggs
A Time to Remember
“The beginning of the end of war lies in remembrance,” wrote Herman Wouk. True, as a nation and a people, we must remember why we chose to fight and then reflect on each war so that we may better understand how to avoid them in the future. And as importantly, we should remember those who fought and died.
Like all other wars, America needs to remember and honor the service of Vietnam veterans. However, back in the late 1970s, Americans weren’t even beginning to think about ways in which they could commemorate the controversial and unpopular the war. Even though the war itself wasn’t viewed in the brightest light, soldiers gave their lives for the Vietnam cause. Those soldiers needed to be remembered in a way that the entire world could see.
There is great complexity, both politically and architecturally, to getting anything done in Washington, DC, especially anything involving permanent changes to the National Mall. Yet this was the place where the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was destined to be and eventually, the memorial came to life. VVMF announced plans for the Memorial in November 1979, and three years later, in November 1982, the memorial was dedicated. This is akin to the speed of light for anything to happen in Washington, DC. Years of work finally yielded magnificent results. Today, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or “The Wall”, has been visited by tens of millions of Americans since its dedication nearly 30 years ago.
VVMF’s logical next step, The Education Center at The Wall, is set to bring the same results. Visitors to this Education Center will make visual contact with the Lincoln Memorial and gaze at the Washington Monument as they await entrance to what will surely be an unforgettable experience. Exhibit designer Ralph Applebaum always strives to “touch the heart in order to teach the mind.” The Education Center at The Wall will be synergistic with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but is strategically placed as to not interfere with visitors to The Wall.
For the two million annual visitors, experiences will be filled with emotion, as well as learning. There will be photographs of those who gave their lives in Vietnam and moving displays showing some of the 200,000 items left at The Wall. People will also learn about the citizens who served their nation in other wars as they begin to think about these citizen’s values; the values of duty, honor, loyalty, and courage. These are part of the bond that provides American soldiers with the ability to endure the stress and strains of military service. Today, thousands of our soldiers are still under enemy fire in Afghanistan, and The Education Center will not look over those currently in harm’s way.
The Education Center at The Wall will be a place where service to our nation will be elevated by connecting people to America’s core values. The Education Center will teach about our military history, but will also broaden the concept of service and inspire visitors to do more for their country. Visitors will be impressed and moved by the honorable sacrifices rendered by American soldiers, and introduced to the larger notion of how they can begin to serve in their own communities.
Visitors will be asked to honor those lost in the war by participating in an act of civic virtue upon returning to their communities. Each visitor who agrees to do something positive, like visiting a grieving neighbor or standing up to a schoolyard bully, to help someone out when they return to their communities will be given a dog tag to help them remember that commitment.
The Education Center at The Wall will be unlike anything else. The Education Center is not just about the past, but the future as well. It uses the entire Wall in an inspiring manner – allowing people to better understand the sense of duty and honor of those who have defended America.
America needs the Education Center at The Wall. Help VVMF complete its final mission. Your help is needed, as we hope to get construction underway in less than a year. Learn more at www.buildthecenter.org.
Jan Craig Scruggs, Esq., President
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc.