Vietnam War (detail from a photograph of U.S. troops)

Honoring the Dead

The Wall

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., was dedicated in 1982. Its polished black granite panels bear the names of men and women killed or missing in Vietnam from 1956 to 1975. The wall has become a place where Americans honor those who died, and reflect on their feelings about the war. Veterans seek out the names of their buddies; families and friends look for the names of loved ones. They mourn, remember, come to terms. Many leave flowers or letters or treasured keepsakes. Others, not searching for a name, find a sense of the enormity of the sacrifices made in Vietnam, and realize that the lives of those named on the wall are connected by history to their own.

As soon as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial opened to the public, visitors began leaving remembrances tucked between the granite panels or at the base of the wall—a scribbled note, for example, or a cherished snapshot. Soon, people were leaving elaborate displays, often covered in protective plastic. The story and meaning behind most of the offerings is known only to the donors.

At the wall