The design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. sparked debate and introspection, awe and outrage, when it was proposed.
In the decades since, the black granite memorial has become a national shrine, a healing and holy place.
But not everyone who died during the Vietnam War era is on the Wall. And adding names is a cumbersome, bureaucratic process.
Almost immediately after the Wall was dedicated in 1982, requests started coming in from family members of individuals who had been left off, said Tim Tetz, director of outreach for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. That group created the Wall in 1979 and assembled the original list of names inscribed there from military records.
The requests have never stopped. “We didn’t figure almost 40 years later, we’d still be adding names,” he said.
VVMF transferred the memorial to the National Park Service in 1983 but continues to work with that agency to maintain the memorial site.
Over the years, Tetz said, the Department of Defense put in place criteria for inclusion on the Wall: death in the defined war zone; on a combat mission in or out of that zone; or within 120 days of returning home from wounds or sickness suffered in Vietnam. There is some leeway, Tetz said, for soldiers who died from their wounds later, in some cases many years later. DOD relies on the military branches to research the records of those submitted for inclusion.
But those criteria exclude many of those who served, including the 74 sailors who died when their ship, the USS Frank E. Evans, was struck during an international training exercise in 1969 in waters outside the Vietnam combat zone. And they don’t include the 93 Americans soldiers who died when Flying Tigers Flight 739 plunged into the Pacific Ocean en route to Vietnam in 1962.