First panel of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial unveiled on July 21, 1982

Jan Scruggs stands at the podium at the unveiling of the first panel of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall) on July 21, 1982.

The first inscribed panel of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Panel 9W, was unveiled during a ceremony on July 21, 1982 in Washington, D.C. Family members of four service members whose names were on the panel were also in attendance. The panel was unveiled by Gold Star Mother Emogene M. Cupp.

According to a story in The Washington Post from July 22, 1982, Charles Fishman wrote, “It was Cupp who actually drew aside the blue curtain covering the 10-foot-high panel, which was flanked by an eight-member color guard from American Legion Post 108 in Cheverly, Md. Six of the guard’s members had served in Vietnam.”

Early in his efforts to build a national memorial to Vietnam veterans, Jan Scruggs called upon Emogene Cupp for support. At the time, she was National President of the American Gold Star Mothers. The Gold Star Mothers is a group of mothers whose sons or daughters have died serving their country. According to VVMF’s history of The Wall, Cupp liked the idea and volunteered to help. She had experienced firsthand the pains caused by the war. Her only son Robert, an Army draftee, was killed by a land mine on June 6, 1968. She attended many of their meetings on Capitol Hill as they drummed up support for The Wall. Cupp passed away on July 1, 2019.

Bob Doubek described the unveiling of the first panel in his book, Creating the Vietnam Veterans Memorial: The Inside Story. He writes, “On Wednesday morning we held a small but moving ceremony to unveil the first inscribed granite panel on the memorial, the ninth from the apex on the west wall. It contained 665 names of casualties from June 2, 1970, to July 8, 1970.”

Doubek notes that the unveiling ceremony was John Wheeler’s idea. John P. “Jack” Wheeler III was a Vietnam veteran who was the first chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF). Doubek also said it was Wheeler’s decision to invite the families of four fallen service members whose names were inscribed on the panel.

The four service members were:

Joseph F. McDermott, III; SP4; USA; College Park, Md.; Panel 9W, Line 131

Terry A. Mote; 1LT; USA; Rockville, Md; Panel 9W, Line 109

Allen R. Stroud, SSGT; USA; Silver Spring, Md; Panel 9W, Line 133.

Joseph M. Turowski, Jr., SP4; USA; Baltimore, Md; Panel 9W, Line 81.

In their book, To Heal A Nation: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Jan C. Scruggs and Joel L. Swerdlow wrote:

“Men working at the site took off their hardhats and stood silently as Emogene Cupp, whose son had been buried on his twenty-first birthday, released a rope that held a blue velvet sheet over the panel with 665 names.

Scruggs introduced the parents and announced who their sons were. Then each family walked up to the panel and left one long-stemmed red rose.

The families also did something unexpected. They touched the stone. Even a six-year-old girl walked calmly through the adults and reached up to an uncle she had never met. The touches were more than soft. They were gentle, filled with feeling – as if the stone were alive.”

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated four months later, on November 13, 1982, in Washington, D.C.