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Vietnam Veterans Memorial Center Exhibits Unveiled

23 May 2007


Exhibition designer Ralph Appelbaum has unveiled the exhibits planned for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Center, an underground facility slated for the National Mall near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
An array of national leaders attended the Capitol Hill news conference to express their support for the project. Several of them, including Gen. Barry McCaffrey, USA (Ret.) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) spoke at the press conference.  Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash) was scheduled to speak but had a last-minute conflicting meeting elsewhere in the Capitol.

“This is the logical next evolution of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial experience, and I am enthusiastic to be part of the campaign to bring it to life,” said Gen. McCaffrey, who chairs the Advisory Board of veterans, authors, historians and educators who advise the Memorial Fund on the exhibits.

“The Center will be a place that reveals the human dimension of the war and honors the value of service and the bonds of loyalty and friendship,” said exhibit designer Ralph Appelbaum. “It will allow a new generation of visitors to better understand the human experience of war and the web of lives affected.”

During the presentation, Appelbaum spelled out the specific goals of the Center:
  • Enhance the Memorial experience
  • Honor those who died
  • Put faces with the names of those memorialized on The Wall
  • Encourage younger visitors to learn more
He explained how listening, learning, research and discussion with distinguished Vietnam veterans, authorities in charge of the National Mall and everyday Americans have resulted in a clear concept for the Center.  And, he showed visuals illustrating the main components of the planned exhibits:
  • Faces of Service Members: A wall of photos of fallen service members who had their birthday on that particular day, along with any images, letters or other remembrances left at The Wall for that individual.
  • Display of Values: Words such as Respect, Loyalty, Courage, Duty, Service, Honor and Integrity, combined with excerpts from letters of fallen service members that convey those concepts.
  • Artifacts Collection: A dramatic series of glass cases that contain selections of the more than 100,000 items that have been left at the Memorial – including personal letters home from men and women in uniform.
  • Timeline A factual chronology of military events to give an overview of the span of the war and the key actions.
  • History of the Memorial A visual and written history of The Wall and the way it has uniquely influenced the way Americans memorialize and pay tribute.
  • Resource Center: Interactive stations where visitors, specifically young people, can access additional information.
  • Legacy of Service A visual connection between those who served in Vietnam and all Americans in uniform, past and present.
“The Center will be the home of some of the personal items that have been left at the Memorial and that illustrate the loss and grieving—they are eloquent examples of love and friendship,” Appelbaum added. “Here, we give each name a face and explore the universal bond among all veterans of war.”

The Memorial Center has generated the support of an impressive array of respected public and military officials, including Gen. Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.), the honorary chairman of the Campaign to Build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Center, and Dr. Christos M. Cotsakos, campaign chairman.

After a national design competition held in 2004, a five-member jury selected the team of Polshek Partnership Architects to design the Center and Ralph Appelbaum Associates to plan the interior layout.  The two have collaborated on such high-profile projects as the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark., and the Newseum/Freedom Foundation World Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Polshek has experience with underground facilities, such as the Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Appelbaum also created the exhibits for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

“The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Center will be a place that touches the heart and teaches the mind, enhancing the Memorial experience for people of all ages and walks of life, taking them on a journey through layers of storytelling and history,” said Harry Robinson, a board member of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund who also spoke at the press conference.

“The Center will be a commemoration and celebration of the values of loyalty, duty and honor – the values that defined not only the brave young men and women who gave their lives in Vietnam, but in all of America’s wars,” added Gen. McCaffrey.  “And possibly most importantly, we believe this Center will present fantastic learning opportunities for our nation’s young people.”

About the Center
The Center has been authorized by Congress, and the Memorial Fund is working in partnership with the National Park Service, which ultimately will operate the Center.  These partners are working within the processes and guidelines for new projects on the National Mall, in conjunction with the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and all other appropriate entities.

Three potential architectural designs for the Center are under consideration, subject to the approval of CFA and NCPC. The Memorial Fund and National Park Service are soliciting input from the agencies on the final three designs this summer and plan to go before the commissions with one design for formal approval this fall. A public comment period will take place this summer.

While the design approval, fundraising and building schedule for the Memorial Center is approximate right now, groundbreaking is expected in 2010, with the Center being completed within 18 months after that.

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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