Vietnam Veterans – The most depressing monument

Washington DC, USA

We doubt that anyone can walk away from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial without being affected in some way or another. I’ve come out of museums bawling and depressed before. But for a monument, the Vietnam Veteran Memorial could possibly the most depressing monument I’ve ever been to. There has been no other monument that has this effect on us before.

This DC’s memorial is not how one would describe as imposing. It’s quite the opposite really. It’s low-key and as far as monuments go, it’s kind of small. It consists of 2 black marble walls forming an angle, located on a sunken area such as the top of the walls are level with the ground. As you walk down the ramp that takes you to the base of the wall you notice that walls are engraved with names. Barely an inch high.

There are no pictures. No explanatory placards. But those are not needed.

It’s the endless rows of names that get you. As you walk along the wall, you realise that the walls are taller and longer than they first appeared. And each panel is covered with names. Covered.

You trace your finger over these lines of names and you start wondering what kind of stories went down with them on the battlefield and will forever remain untold. Stories about broken promises, mom’s casseroles, or maybe the smell of a girl’s perfume. Stories about childhood dreams and childhood pets left behind.

Each one of these guys might have uttered at one point, “When I get back…”

Vietnam War Veteran Memorial - Washington DC

So many names.

Seriously, it got to us.

14 Replies to “Vietnam Veterans – The most depressing monument”

  1. I visited a few days before September 11 in 2001. I was on boot leave after having just earned the title Marine. I walked around DC in uniform with my mother. We stopped by the wall. People came up to me and thanked me for my service. It was hard to take in light of the fact that I was fresh out of bootcamp, standing there surrounded by the names of people who served and gave everything. It was also hard to maintain military bearing, as we'd had drummed into our heads, and things got a bit misty.

    Nicely written. Thank you.

  2. How we tret our veterans is ridiculous. They gave their lives for our country and deserve to be treated better. Thank you!

  3. I live in DC and walk by this monument all the time. One interesting piece of trivia is that it was designed as part of a competition. A professor assigned it to his architecture class and then graded the submissions. He also submitted a design to the competition, but a student of his won. It turns out he had given her only a B on the assignment even though she won.

  4. Everything that effected you about the Vietnam Memorial is what is missing from the WWII memorial (which I hate). Whereas the Vietnam Memorial is a reflective piece about the individuals who gave their lives, the WWII memorial is an impersonal, kind of braggy, abstract piece about how we won the war. I'm glad to see the the Vietnam Memorial affected you so much, as that means that it works.

    Sorry, just a DC resident rant.

  5. The first time I visited DC I really had no desire to see the Vietnam memorial. I thought is was just a wall of names – boring! My friend wanted to see it, so we went. This is one of the most moving places I have ever visited! The enormity of the walls and all the names is overwhelming. Then you notice the flowers laying on the sidewalk and the "older" person who stands on the grass and just stares at the same place on the wall for hours! Obviously this is their son, brother or relative. It will bring a tear to anyone's eye! A definite must see for anyone in or near DC.

  6. That's an interesting perspective. I lived in DC when the monument was being erected, and visited many times. I found it moving, but strangely, not depressing at all. No visitor to DC should miss it.

  7. Excellent post, and so TRUE! I was in DC a few weeks ago and visited the Vietnam War Vet Monument as well. I didn't realize how small the names had been written on the wall until I got up close and personal with the monument. Once I did, I was speechless…

  8. I too was moved at the Vietnam war memorial in D.C. when I last visited D.C. And the WWII memorial, and… and…
    AND… though I've not yet had a chance to visit the "War Remnants Museum" here in my new adopted home, Ho Chi Minh City, I'm sure the displays there will be equally moving, albeit no doubt from a tad different perspective.
    Politics aside (which as a traveler is precisely where I prefer it), WAR on any continent, between any peoples is nothing but tragic. Killing each other surely can't be the answer. ALL peoples have loved ones left grieving. And "mom’s casseroles" missed.
    Just sayin…
    I'm proud to be an American. And even prouder to have 2 dear young nephews (both graduates of West Point) at the ready to defend our precious, hard-fought freedom (uh, remember the Redcoats?) but…
    I'm just sayin…

  9. Very simple, clear, respectful. As someone who served, I want to thank you for taking time to visit and for posting about it.

    The only time I've ever been to DC was on my boot leave. After Marine Corps bootcamp (during peace time) there is a 10 day period for visiting friends and family before heading to the next phase of training. My mother flew out from WA and we did a little traveling along the east coast. Last stop was DC. I walked around in my Alphas, though I could have gone in civilian clothes, because I was so proud to be in the capital. We went to the White House, where the Marine Guards smiled at me; to the Lincoln Memorial, where a fellow jogging past asked me which marksmanship badge I'd earned; and to the Wall.

    At the Wall people came up to me and shook my hand. They told me about a cousin or a brother or a father who had been a Marine. They thanked me for my service. I worked hard to maintain that military bearing I'd spent 3 endless months learning, but I had tears in my eyes by the time we left. I just went to bootcamp, I hadn't done anything. Those guys on the Wall, though, they gave everything.

  10. A reminder that we should not take the liberties and freedom, we enjoy in this country for granted. It made me sad too when I visited the memorial last time when I was in DC. A reminder that thousands of people gave the ultimate sacrifice for the beautiful country, we all call "home"

  11. I had the same reaction when we visited this memorial years ago. It's so simple, yet so moving – each of those names is a real person, and realizing that helped (for me) humanize war instead of thinking of it only as an abstract concept.

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