The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated on this day in history, Nov. 13, 1982 — becoming the newest addition to Washington, D.C.’s National Mall.
Designed by Maya Lin, an architectural student at Yale University at the time, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial consists of two 200-foot walls made up of 72 panels of polished black granite.
The names of more than 58,000 American service members who were killed (or were missing in action) in the Vietnam War are inscribed on 70 of those panels, in order of their deaths.
At the time of its dedication, the memorial was regarded for its “revolutionary minimalist design” that appeared as “a gash on the landscape, an unhealed wound,” said the website for the National Parks Service.
Unlike the other memorials on the National Mall, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial did not have statues of service members. Initially, it proved quite controversial among groups of veterans, notes the History Channel’s website.
After the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated, however, there was a “remarkable shift in public opinion” toward the memorial.
As of 2023, it is the most-visited memorial on the National Mall, according to the Department of Defense website.
Today, it is not uncommon for friends and family members of those who are listed on the wall to leave mementos — such as flowers, photos, dog tags or even cans of beer — on the base of the panels bearing their names.
Items that are left behind become the property of the National Parks Service, says its website.
While the memorial was dedicated in 1982, the complex as a whole would see several additions in the years that followed.
Two years later, in 1984, a statue of three soldiers, appropriately titled “Three Servicemen,” was installed and dedicated just a short distance away from the memorial wall.
The bronze sculpture, created by Frederick Hart, “depicts three American servicemen and the things they carried,” says the National Parks Service website.
The three soldiers were purposefully depicted as those of different races: One is European American, another is African American and another is Latino American.
“On their youthful faces, faces too young to have experienced war, we see expressions of loneliness and profound love and a fierce determination never to forget.”
The “Three Servicemen” sculpture was the first depiction of an African American on the National Mall, says Hart’s website.
“The fighting men depicted in the statue we dedicate today, the three young American servicemen, are individual only in terms of their battle dress; all are as one, with eyes fixed upon the memorial bearing the names of their brothers in arms,” said President Ronald Reagan in his speech at the dedication.
“On their youthful faces, faces too young to have experienced war, we see expressions of loneliness and profound love and a fierce determination never to forget,” the president added.
In 1993, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial was unveiled and opened to the public.
The Vietnam Women’s Memorial features the statues of three uniformed women tending to a wounded soldier, says the Department of the Interior website.
Finally, in 2004, the “In Memory” plaque was added near the Three Servicemen statue.
The plaque honors those who died from causes related to the Vietnam War, such as exposure to Agent Orange.