The Efforts Behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Scruggs and Memorial supporters, 1980

A group photograph of Jan Scruggs and supporters of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that helped with the passage of the bill in the Senate, 1980. From left to right: Murray McCann; Lt. Cmdr. Jerry Bever, USN; Bill Marr; unidentified man; Ron Gibbs; Sen. Charles Mathias (R-Md.); Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.); Jan Scruggs: Tom Cahart: Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.)l Bob Doubek; Arthur Mosley; unidentified; Jack Wheeler; Bill Jayne; and Bruce Spiher.

Jan Scruggs’ vision of the Memorial is reflected what historian John Gillis has remarked as a “growing acknowledgment that everyone now deserves equal recognition at all times in wholly accessible places.” However, this came at a cost of what the Vietnam War meant to all Americans: was it a generally unmoral cause? Or patriotic? Initiated four years after the war’s end, the Memorial was generated in a political time period of historical revisionism: American policy makers began to adopt a Revisionism in the Vietnam war narrative:

In a war discredited long before it was over, the traditional view was that it cost too much American blood and treasure, and that Washington had forced this war on a reluctant public. By the late 1970s, however, a handful of scholars and military leaders revised this view.

This revisionism began to provide a platform for the controversial conflict as being a “vivid example of the good intentions of American liberalism.” With Revisionism and the financial purse of Washington, the VVMF was able to extend the type of memorialization for Vietnam veterans; likewise, the influential Washington elites utilized the memorial as a unifying accord of the controversial conflict. That is, the emerging trend of Revisionism allowed a shared exploration into the history of the Vietnam War for those who were in it, for it, and against it. Altogether, the VVMF’s proposed memorial opened discussion of a longtime closed subject.

    Through a progress of three and a half years, Congress was convinced to give the VVMF a three-acre plot of land, on which the Vietnam monument was to be sited in Constitution Gardens, next to the Lincoln Memorial. By the Memorial’s finished construction and Presidential dedication in 1982, the VVMF had raised $8.4 million. No federal funds had been used; instead, more than 275,000 veterans, individuals, unions, foundations, and civic organizations had provided the large sum of private donations.