The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was constructed to commemorate the members of the United States armed forces reported killed, MIA (Missing in Action) or POW (Prisoner of War) during the Vietnam War. It is made up of 3 parts: the statue of the Three Soldiers, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, and the Memorial’s most well-known section, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
The best-known part of the Vietnam Memorial is the Memorial Wall, on which is etched the names of US servicemen killed or missing in Vietnam. Designed in 1981 by then-21 year-old Chinese-American artist Maya Lin, the monument consists of 2 gabbro walls measuring 246 feet 9 inches long (75 m). At the apex, the walls meet at a height of 10.1 feet (3 meters), tapering to 8 inches high (20 centimeters) at their extremities. Meeting at a 125-degree 12-foot angle, one of the walls points to the direction of the Washington Monument, while the other wall is pointing towards the Lincoln Memorial.
The stone used in the construction of the Memorial Wall, originating from Bangalore, Karnataka, India, was chosen specifically because it had a reflective quality. This is so that visitors can see their reflection along with the names on the wall, symbolically joining the past with the present. After the stonecutting and fabrication had been done in Barre, Vermont, the stones were then sent to Memphis, Tennessee to have the names etched on them with the use of a photoemulsion and sandblasting procedure.
The walls each have 72 panels, 70 of which list names numbered 1E to 70E and 70W to 1W, while the other 2 small panels at the extremities are left blank. Along the Memorial Wall’s base is a pathway where visitors can walk to read the names or to pray. The names are listed down in chronological order, beginning at the apex of panel 1E for those who had fallen in 1959 (even though it turned out the first casualties had been military advisers killed in 1957), moving day-by-day to the eastern wall’s end at panel 70E (ending at May 25, 1968), then starts again at the western wall’s end at panel 70W (ending at May 25, 1968), and returns to panel 1W’s apex in 1975.
When the Memorial Wall was completed in 1993, there were 58,191 names listed on it. By May 2011, there are currently 58,272 names on it, including 8 women. Those who are listed as missing (about 1,200 names) are marked with a cross, while those who are confirmed dead are designated with a diamond. Should the missing come back alive (though this hasn’t happened as of March 2009), the cross would be encircled. If confirmed dead, a diamond would be placed over the cross. There are directories found on nearby podiums to assist visitors in locating particular names.