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The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, is a dark black granite wall that bears the names of the American men and women who were casualties of the Vietnam War. Its V shape has one leg pointing toward the Lincoln Memorial and the other leg pointing toward the Washington Monument. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has often been ranked among the most popular structures in the United States (US).
In the 1970s, a group of US veterans began to conceive, plan, and raise funds for a memorial to Vietnam veterans. After a design competition yielded entries from more than a thousand architects, landscape designers, and artists from across the US, a winning entry from Maya Lin, then a student at Yale University, was chosen. Lin’s concept was realized upon installation and completion of the wall in 1982.
Each of the two 246.75 foot (about 75.2 meter) long walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial contains engraved names of those killed in the arena of the Vietnam War. The wall is 10.1 feet (about 3.1 meters) tall at the high points with a slope to just 8 inches (about 20.32 cm) at the low points. More than 58,000 names are engraved on the memorial, which is also known simply as "The Wall."
Names appear in order from earliest fatalities to the most recent and include about 1,200 marked as Missing in Action (MIA), or Prisoners of War (POW). A lettering and numbering system helps visitors find specific names and often, visitors trace these engraved names of family and friends on paper. Many visitors also leave tokens of their love — letters and poems, medals received by the deceased, photos, and other mementos — at the site. These items are collected and archived as a separate part of the memorial.
Although the main portion of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is widely considered to be The Wall, two complementary pieces added near the site are intended to honor all men and women who served in the Vietnam War. Three Servicemen, a bronze statue by Frederick E. Hart, includes three male soldiers and was added to the memorial site in 1984; the Vietnam Womens Memorial, a sculpture by Glenna Goodacre, was installed in 1993 and depicts three women and a wounded soldier in the war zone.
Of the comments, controversies, and acclaim surrounding the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the visual gravity of the sheer number of American lives lost in the war is undeniable for many. Row upon row of names carved into the memorial wall rest in stone amid a park-like atmosphere. Millions of visitors each year pay their respects to the deceased and reflect on the cost and gains of such an enormous loss of lives.
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