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Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection Reaches 100,000 Items

06 December 2006


Since the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982, visitors have left items including medals, photos, helmets, notes and, in one memorable case, a custom-built motorcycle at the Memorial.

What all these items have in common is that they are left in tribute to the more than 58,000 service members whose names are inscribed on the black granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  This collection now totals over 100,000 items.

To commemorate this event, the Memorial Fund and the National Park Service are holding a press conference at the Museum Resource Center, the facility where the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection is stored. The press conference will take place on Friday, December 8, beginning promptly at 10:30 a.m. Members of the press are asked to arrive early, as there is a security entrance process news media must go through.  The Museum Resource Center address is 3300 Hubbard Road, Landover, MD 20785. Representative samples of the collection will be on display, including the motorcycle and designer Maya Lin’s model of the Memorial.

“Unlike other memorials on the National Mall, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is unique because it is a place of healing,” said Vikki Keys, Superintendent, National Mall & Memorial Parks. “The National Park Service is honored to collect and preserve this unique collection of items left by the visitors at the Memorial.”

“When we built the Memorial back in 1982, no one foresaw this happening,” said Jan C. Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. “Our goal was to help the nation remember and pay tribute to all who served and sacrificed in Vietnam. No one anticipated that The Wall would become a place where visitors would leave tokens of their love, esteem and remembrance.”

National Park Service rangers collect items left at The Wall every evening. These items are transported to the Museum Resource Center where they are cataloged and professionally preserved.  Through developing this collection, the National Park Service has set the standard for modern documentary collections.  The National Park Service has provided technical guidance to the curatorial staff for Oklahoma City, Columbine, Flight 93/”9-11” and other similar memorials.  The Museum Resource Center is a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled museum facility that houses 44 collections, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection, from the National Capital Region. This facility is not open to the public.

The Museum Resource Center makes objects from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial collection available for exhibition at other museums.  In the past, these items have been displayed at the Smithsonian Institution and the War Museum in London, among other venues.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was the first memorial to experience the daily phenomenon of visitors interacting with the Memorial and leaving items in such large numbers.  Objects that have been left there include military paraphernalia, teddy bears, a large stained-glass soldier, tributes from children and grandchildren and other personal items left to honor the dead and those who served their country.

Since 1984, the National Park Service has been carefully preserving and cataloging these items. Objects from the first 100,000 items collected at The Wall will be featured in rotating exhibits at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Center, an educational facility that will be built underground on the National Mall near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The Center will include quotes from letters home, a timeline of the Vietnam War and a display of items left at The Wall.  Photographs of service members will be displayed on their birthdays

“Part of the story of the men and women whose names are on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is the people they left behind and how those loved ones have mourned them,” said Ralph Appelbaum, president of Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the firm designing the exhibits for the Memorial Center.  “The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection is a moving and powerful reminder that families and friends left behind never forgot their loved ones. It is impossible to view the mortar boards left at the wall by children and grandchildren—as if to tell their parent and/or grandparent that they graduated school and are doing all right—without tearing up, yourself.”

Established in 1979, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is the nonprofit organization authorized by Congress to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Today, through a series of outreach programs, it is dedicated to preserving the legacy of The Wall, promoting healing, educating about the impact of the Vietnam War and is building the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Center, an underground educational facility, near The Wall.
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