Vietnam Women's Memorial Project, Inc.

"A Legacy of Healing and Hope"

2001 S Street, NW Suite 302    Washington, D.C., 20009   202-328-7253    fax 202-986-3636


Diane Carlson Evans, RN
Founder and Chair, Vietnam Women's Memorial Project, Inc.
Washington, D.C.

In support of H.R. 3293 106th Congress
To authorize the placement within the site of the Vietnam
Veterans memorial a plaque to honor those Vietnam veterans who
died after their service in the Vietnam war, but as a direct result of
that service.

Once again there is a debate raising questions regarding how and why we commemorate war veterans. Efforts are underway in Congress to authorize the addition of a commemorative plaque on the grounds of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial honoring those Vietnam veterans who died as a result of the Vietnam war but who are not eligible to have their names placed on the "Wall". Some festering critical views of adding anything to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial persist. Critics recently have urged Congress to vote against "tinkering" with the existing Memorial, and if a plaque is authorized and dedicated that there be a guarantee for "no more"
additions or alterations to the site.

When is a memorial complete? The debate about adding another
element to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial brings back agonizing
memories. In 1984, I founded the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project and led the nine year effort to convince the adversaries that women's service and sacrifice be portrayed in a bronze monument and added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in Washington D.C. Fierce opposition emerged from around the country. Influential individuals opposed to this proposal hindered the mandatory approval process. Federal regulatory agencies voted "no" until Congress passed a law authorizing a site and a memorial at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Critics feared that women and veterans would destroy the Vietnam Veterans Memorial by adding "tacky" elements to it. An editorial warned that any further addition to the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial "would be an act of graffiti." Others said it was misguided" and a "bad idea," that an additional element could only disrupt the fragile balance with the Wall. Some opponents to the addition of a statue honoring women claimed ownership of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. They sought to deny women a voice at the memorial and the power to shape--or reshape--the public memory.

Whose history of the war and its participants do we remember and
honor? The opposition to the concept of the Vietnam Women's Memorial, and now the addition of a plaque, demands consideration about the purpose of war memorials. Who ultimately shapes the public memory of war and our veterans?

The Vietnam Women's Memorial, the statue of the Three Servicemen nearby, and the "Wall" each serve a unique and different purpose for the men and women who it represents than it does for other visitors. For veterans, it is a place to remember and to heal. For the public at large the statue portraying women provides a glimpse into a historical experience too often eclipsed from the public memory of war. As thousands of these visitors visit the memorial perhaps the language on a plaque dedicated to the memory of post war deaths will contribute to the understanding of the enormous toll war exacts. People do not only die on the battlefield, they may die years later from chemical poisoning, lingering infections, emotional wounds, and complications of tropical diseases. Perhaps a plaque will contribute to the healing of those loved ones left behind. When this generation is gone, and the need for healing noted only in history books, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial plaque will instruct, inform, and inspire every visitor to work for peace.

In the case of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial it is good that Congress "tinkers" with its purpose and listens to the people of America, especially its veterans and seeks to help shape the public memory of war. Single individuals do not own the Memorial no do they have the right to decide what is in its best interest. The efforts of Congress, in this case, can shed light on the aftermath, the debris of war and bring the human tragedy more visibly into the public eye.

We support the passage of H.R. 3293, S. 1921 and that the plaque's design and placement be shepherded through the approval process by the American Battle Monuments Commission. With the dedication of a plaque at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as with the dedication of the Vietnam Women's Memorial, perhaps we will learn that it should be the men and women who serve in war and the families who lose the most--their loved ones--who ultimately shape the public memory of war.

Diane Carlson Evans, RN

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