Sharing the Legacies of Vietnam Veterans: Spotlight on Wall Volunteer Dan Kirby

Co-written by Kalli McCoy

BP1_0775Since its dedication in 1982, The Wall has been a solemn place to reflect, honor, and remember. It holds the names of those who gave all for their country during the Vietnam War. There are more than 58,000 names inscribed in its black granite. The Memorial stands as a dedication to honor the courage, sacrifice and devotion to duty and country of all who answered the call to serve.

After The Wall’s inception, no one expected it to draw the number of people it does today. There continue to be millions of visitors who want to pay their respects, and learn more about the Vietnam War and its impact. But crowds were not the only surprise.

In the early months of The Wall, there were also many threats to damage and vandalize it. A group of Vietnam veterans began to camp voluntarily to its grounds, in order to stand guard and protect The Wall.

Today, Volunteers of The Vietnam Veterans Memorial are seen wearing yellow hats and matching yellow shirts, standing by the Wall with pencils, name rubbing papers, and the readiness to answer any questions related to The Wall and the Vietnam war. VVMF has approximately 90 Wall Volunteers, of which about 50% are veterans themselves. They are people whose jobs are to “keep watch” over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial grounds.

A group shot of volunteers of The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in front of The Three Servicemen Statue. Veterans Day, 2014.

A group shot of volunteers of The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in front of The Three Servicemen Statue. Veterans Day, 2014.

“Visitors – veterans, families, friends, students, foreign nationals – upon seeing and touching the names etched on this magnificent memorial experience a profound understanding of the true cost of war,” said Wall Volunteer Dan Kirby.

Dan Kirby first experienced The Wall on its opening day in 1982. He’s been volunteering with VVMF ever since.


Dan Kirby gives a tour at The Wall, pointing to panels along the East Wall.

As with many veterans, Kirby has struggled with the question, “Why them and not me?” The question rings so clear when so many fellow comrades did not return. Volunteering at The Wall has helped him overcome this.

“I’ve left that question alone for some time now knowing that it may never be answered.  For me, the ability to remember those that I served with who did not return alive and to explain the memorial to visitors is healing enough.”

Volunteering at The Wall has let him connect with those he shared experiences with, whether that was fellow veterans or the loved ones of those that were lost.  For Kirby, that experience was with the daughter of his rifle company commander who had been killed in Vietnam. In 1993, Kirby reached out to his commander’s daughter and remaining family, and shared information about her father as a soldier and as a man. That Father’s Day, Kirby also escorted her and her family to see their father’s name on The Wall.

As a volunteer, Kirby dedicates his time to assisting some of the more than four million visitors to The Wall each year, and sharing the legacies of all Vietnam veterans.

Basketball left at Wall Arant

A basketball left at The Wall, signed by loved ones in remembrance of a fallen veteran. Credit/Dan Arant

Kirby, along with other Wall volunteers help to collect items left at the memorial at the end of each day. There have been more than 400,000 items left at The Wall. The volunteers as well as the National Park Service (NPS), work tirelessly to protect these items from weather’s most dangerous elements, rain and snow, by placing them in plastic bags as well as ensuring their safety at the Memorial. These items are symbols of gratitude—mementos of love reminding us how important it is to remember the fallen.

Volunteers assist with many VVMF programs including: helping at  annual ceremonies, spreading word in their communities about the future Education Center, and collecting photos of  the men and women on The Wall.

Kirby would continue to say, “I would hope that current and future generations visit the memorial not out of obligation to check off all the memorials on some arbitrary must-see list but to comprehend the meaning of the words service and sacrifice.  That is the legacy of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.”

You can learn more about becoming a volunteer here.

Thank you to all of our wonderful, devoted, dedicated volunteers!

Parts of this blog were taken from the book, The Wall: 25 Years of Healing and Education.