Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Veterans Day Three Servicemen Statue

Veterans Day Three Servicemen Statue, Department of DefenseThe Three Servicemen Statue overlooks the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., Nov. 9. Photo by Sgt. Sara Wood, USA.

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The Three Servicemen Statue at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial captures a full range of emotions. Taken as a whole, the statue symbolizes the spirit of compromise and reconciliation. Like the the Vietnam War itself, the controversy over the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial divided America while inflicting deep wounds among the veterans. The proposed design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial angered some Vietnam veterans and others who felt that it did not convey the heroism, patriotism, and honor inherent in most war memorials. To them, placement of the memorial below ground level hid it from view, while its color further hinted at a feeling of shame. They thought the memorial focused too much on death and loss. The Three Servicemen Statue was a compromise to that controversy, a compromise that sought to continue the healing of a nation.

THE CONTROVERSY Maya Ying Lin's design, consisting of a long, black granite wall upon which would be etched the names of the 58,249 men and women who died and were missing from the Vietnam War, sought to honor their collective sacrifice. A veteran assailed the design as the "black gash of shame." Other detractors criticized it as a "black, flagless pit," while others attacked it as being "unheroic," "death-oriented," and "intentionally not meaningful." Supporters of her design felt that personal, political, or ethical reservations about the war could be set aside in order to remember and honor those who served. The memorial could begin the healing and reconciliation process of a still divided nation. But before the nation could heal, old wounds needed to be opened.

The veterans were not new to wounds; they had suffered many. Serving in America's most divisive war since the Civil War, they fought in a foreign country against guerrilla tactics, and an enemy that included women and children. Indecision and protests at home gave way to indifference and hostility against the veterans upon their return. As they fought to make a life for themselves after the war, the veterans' shared experiences provided for a common bond. Now, for the first time, they were divided, poised to inflict possible injury to that bond.

As debate raged over Maya Lin's design, opponents suggested throwing it out and starting over again, while members of Congress registered their disapproval. James Watt, Secretary of the Interior in the Reagan Administration, refused to issue a building permit for the memorial. Under the threat of losing their memorial, the veterans, their supporters and their opponents met to find a compromise. They decided to add a statue and a flagpole. These would symbolize in a more traditional manner the patriotism and heroism that some of the veterans and opponents thought was lacking in Lin's design.

In the end, the compromise of the Three Servicemen Statue and flagpole fulfilled a purpose of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial--to help heal the nation's wounds. Citing pain as "a necessary part of...the healing process for the wounds of Vietnam," a former design opponent, Milt Copulos, confessed that although "the wall of the memorial could have been a wall between us," it instead "became a bridge." Vietnam Veterans Memorial Home Page

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