The Mourning at the Vietnam Memorial

The Wall becomes a vivid, almost alive, source of consolation for memory. The extended form of the memorial acts like two “arms” that draw visitors in the center, wherein the center’s ten-foot height surrounds the visitor in a depth of polished black marble and a persistent, quiet, reflection. More so, “[t]he two triangular arms extend and form an open shape which is given closure by the person’s presence and response to the work.” The memorial “takes the visitor down a slope into its center where noise volume, even in large crowds, is perceptibly diminished.” The Wall’s form silences the surrounding environment, creating an environment itself.  

In this environment, the Wall entices a desire for contact. Many visitors tend to touch the engraved names, and even etch the names on paper. As explained in an article titled, “The Vietnam Veterans Memorial,” the wall

has become an object of emotion. This is not the case for the Memorial site as a whole, just the wall and its names. The names on the wall are touched, their letters traced by the moving finger. The names are caressed. The names are reproduced on paper by pencil pinions of the Vietnam rubbing and taken home. And something is left from home itself-a material object bearing special significance to the deceased or a written statement by the visitor or mourner.

The Wall provides symbolic material and direct contact. It is a collective act and a unit of mourning that enables a self-expression in remembering. The Wall is a source that allows visitors to reveal emotions. It has provided a psychological, emotional interaction within the concept of mortality and life. It seems to humanize public grief, in that it not only allows for a public display of emotion, but draws visitors in to a shared experience of sentiment, reflection, contemplation, and mourning. The reflective quality awakens memory and mourning, combining the visitors to the etched names. The outpour of emotion makes the Wall a so-called “transitional phenomenon,” because the interactive mourning has no limits at the Wall. The Vietnam Memorial provides a shared space for the living and the dead, the visitors and the fallen soldiers, the present and the past.

Mourning at the Memorial