24 Things to Know When Visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Rocío LowerNPF Blog
Vietnam Memorial Wall with the Washington Monument in the back at night
Marc Phipps, Share the Experience

We call our national parks our national inheritance. We call them our nation’s gems – our legacy for future generations. We talk about the places they protect and the stories they preserve so that we never forget, never take for granted the struggles it took to forge this nation of ours.

Of the many narratives that have shaped our collective heritage, that of our armed forces stands apart.

Our military history is made up of tales of extraordinary heroism, determination, and sacrifice. These tales are interwoven into the National Park System – not only in battlefield and military parks, but also into our nation’s most iconic gems like Yosemite National Park and Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

In fact, if you were to examine the list of most-visited sites in the National Park System, you’d find a popular – and moving – place where you can learn about the courage and service of our military women and men at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.      

Located on the northwest corner of National Mall and Memorial Parks, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is an exceptional national park site where you can pay tribute to the men and women who served and who lost their lives during the Vietnam War. Within the site, visitors have the opportunity to honor the names of the fallen who are inscribed on the Memorial Wall, visit the Three Servicemen statue, look upon the Vietnam Women’s Memorial statue, and reflect at the In Memory plaque.   

Having welcomed over 5.5 million people last year, our veterans’ stories continue to resonate with visitors at this national park site. Their grit and sacrifice continue to inspire us to give thanks for their service and to never take for granted the cost of our freedom.

The next time you have the opportunity to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, let these fascinating facts help guide you through the powerful stories and symbolism enshrined within this national park.

The Memorial Wall

A collage of the memorial’s architectural drawings and Maya Lin’s one-page written summary on her concept.
Wikimedia Commons
  • The design for the memorial was determined through a nationwide competition.
  • Of the over 1,400 submissions, Yale architecture student Maya Lin’s design was chosen by the committee.
  • The Memorial Wall was dedicated on Veterans Day of 1982.
  • 70 separate panels make up each of the walls of the ‘v’ shape.
  • One end of the memorial wall points toward the Washington Monument, while the other points to the Lincoln Memorial.
An illustration of the memorial walls depicts the order in which the names are displayed on the panels.
Nathan King, NPS
  • The two 200-feet-long walls contain more than 58,000 names.
  • The names are listed in chronological order by date of their casualty and begin and end at the origin point, or center, of the memorial where the two walls meet.
  • Having the names begin and end at the center is meant to form a circle – a completion to the war.
  • By including the names of all those who were killed or missing in action, the memorial conveys just how overwhelming the casualties were during this war.
  • Visitors can see a reflection of themselves in the names on the black granite walls, connecting the living to those lost.

The Three Servicemen statue

A statue of three Vietnam War soldiers gazing toward the Memorial Wall.
Don DeBold, via Flickr
  • The statue was unveiled on Veterans Day of 1984.
  • It honors those who fought and returned from the war by showing them standing, keeping watch over the wall.
  • Artist Frederick Hart used patina to give the bronze statue some color variations.
  • The servicemen depicted in the sculpture stand seven feet tall upon a base that is one foot tall.
  • The three figures represent a Hispanic man, an African American man, and a Caucasian man – ethnic groups that were heavily represented in the war’s combat forces.

Vietnam Women’s Memorial statue

A statue of a woman helping a wounded soldier.
ehpien, via Flickr
  • The Vietnam Women’s Memorial statue was unveiled on Veterans Day of 1993.
  • Former Army nurse Diane Carlson Evans led the efforts to recognize the bravery of the nearly 11,000 women who volunteered.
  • Evans was the first woman in U.S. history to lead an initiative to create a national monument in D.C.
  • Artist Glenna Goodacre composed a scene of a “moment in crisis” to capture the range of emotions women faced in fulfilling their duties.
  • The bandage on the wounded soldier’s face is meant to help visitors see themselves as him, and connect with the comfort and care women provided.

In Memory Plaque

  • On Veterans Day of 2004, the In Memory plaque was added to the memorial site.
  • It is located at the northeast corner of the memorial plaza surrounding The Three Servicemen statue.
  • It is meant to recognize the soldiers whose life was cut short as a result of their service in the war, but whose names were not eligible for inscription on the Memorial Wall.
  • The causes of death that were attributed to their service in Vietnam included PTSD-related illness, Hodgkin's and Parkinson’s, exposure to chemicals such as Agent Orange, and cancer.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is one of many sites in the National Park System that preserve and honor the contributions of our military women and men. Visit the battlefields, military parks, historic sites, and memorials that stand as reminders of their sacrifice, learn about their struggles and experiences defending our values, and give thanks for their valor.


First off I would like to thank all veterans, I’m the youngest of 10 children and in 19661 was 11 year old little boy who would watch his mother get so excited when she went to the mail box n saw one of those funning looking envelopes cause she knew it was from one of my two brothers that was in nam at the same time. No I did not serve bu grandpa when’s in the army in 1873 my uncle n dad warwar2 four brothers two brother in laws nephews nieces all together 14 family members not only am I thankful of them but also every veteran out there thank you . If by chance you make it to d c this Veterans Day stop by the wall n say hello I’ll be there with all my family pictures that served once again thank all of you
Does anyone know how many deaths on the wall were from actual combat vs other deaths?
I was there over Christmas seven years ago when family member was overseas. I was at Udorn AB in 1967. I think the commission chose the perfect one to design memorial. It was very moving. WII was grand as cause of fighting the war. Korean Memorial is one everyone should also see. I was in Teagu in 1968. Proud veteran of USAF and it's okay if no one thanks me. I did my duty. Those that serve now should be given the recognition and thanks. Del
Today is election day, I VOTED today, because of the men that I served with in Vietnam that never made it home. Vietnam was not a nice place to be in 1968 / 1969, and to come home and have the things that were said and done to us as Veterans of war, is to this day still hard for me to think that people would do that to Us. We did what our Country asked us to do ( Drafted) and not old enough to vote, but we did what was asked.
Louis J.
As a Social Studies teacher, I diligently teach about Vietnam to my students as advised by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund curriculum Echoes from the Wall. I was finishing my first grade year in 1975. I never served. I have a love for teaching, and one of the things I teach is about how important it is to remember all veterans who served. Vietnam veterans deserve to be treated with the same dignity as all other veterans. I work hard to instill the importance of keeping the memory alive. Thank you to all veterans who served!
I am a Vietnam Veteran having served there 1968 and 1969. I appreciate it when folks say to me "Thank You For Your Service".....and I thank THEM for thanking ME....and usually ask them to add "AND WELCOME HOME" when they address a Vietnam Veteran because WE did not get the "Welcome Home" that today's Veteran get.
My active duty Navy grandson went last year. I was opposed to the war, but not to the people who were actually doing the fighting, most of them only a few years older than me. I cried for these fallen, and only wish they would have been the last to fall in battle. Much love and respect for all Veterans, these especially whose brothers and sisters in arms were not treated right upon return. "Love the sinner,hate the sin" for me translated to " Hate the war,love those who bravely fought" Still wishing we could find a better way to resolve differences.
As an Active Duty servicewoman, I take pride in knowing that those that came before me, made it easier for me to serve and be proud. I didn't play a role in Vietnam, but I made it a point to re- enlist near the wall to say thank you and that I will carry the baton. We care, so don't be so cynical. I've and was told personal stories about how the reception of returning servicemen, so I see your point in that context, but you all are Never obscure or forgotten.
The comment has been made that "nobody cares except those of us who served in Vietnam (and their families)" That is simply not true. I am 48 years old and was blessed not to lose any loved ones in the Vietnam War. However, I made a trip to D.C. and at the top of my list was to go to the Wall to pay my respects. Perhaps I am not indicative of others in the country who are not directly impacted by this terrible war, but I think there are more of us than you think out there -not as many as there should be, unfortunately...but still more than you think. I was raised (and raised my son) to appreciate those who gave of themselves to preserve my way of life. To those taken too soon and those still with us (from this and all wars our country has been involved with) - Thank you for your service! It IS appreciated. And, thank you to the loved ones left behind -your sacrifices have not been forgotten.
Someone above made reference to one war being "...useless..." and another as "...needed...". I submit to you that no war is needed or useless, rather, some wars are necessary while others are/were unnecessary.
Be interesting to see how many visitors actually went to the wall who were not directly involved. My feeling continues to be that nobody cares except those of us who served in Vietnam (and their families) while everybody cares about Iraq (a useless war) and Afghanistan (a needed war)…Does anybody really keep those kind of visitors logs???..Be interesting...
Hello Bill. Here is a response to your inquiry. Thank you for asking. I have not been to the original wall. But I have visited the moving wall. That is not just a name. Being in the presence of the wall in either form is a moving experience indeed. It puts the sacrifice of our soldiers (employed as a generic term for all services, includes those who cared for them who also died) into real terms. No, there isn't a person in my family who served. Not that I know of anyway. And yes, I am very thankful my colleagues wanted to go. One thinks that one knows the sacrifice. But the wall had a moving - no pun intended - effect upon me. I adds true realism to the stories told. It puts one as much in touch as one can be without being there or without the first hand knowledge of those who were. Thank you for your sacrifice, whatever that sacrifice was. Be it being there and witnessing the loss of your comrades in arms, your sisters and brothers in uniform. Or be it in being a family member, friend or colleague of someone who was there and never came home. May you find comfort in knowing there are people without personal involvement who do indeed care. And we are not in as small a number as you might think.
Our Father was spared in the Vietnam War, God Bless all of us. Unfortunately mesothelioma took him which is just as depressing. I miss my father Philip Wayne Hess 06/26/1936. And he never made a big deal of the Vietnam War, he did what his country called upon him to do. Philip Wayne Hess, my father, I miss you every single day. So does Sandy, Rachael, Reagean, Stan, and all in between.
I am somebody. I didn’t serve in Vietnam, but I’ve been to the wall. I care.
Me too.
Just to let you know, while I appreciate all of our veterans, my heart holds a very special place just for Vietnam Vets. My ex husband was Purple Foxes, one of my dearest and nearest friends was at Hamburger Hill. My first cousin did a tour in Vietnam. Most of the men in my family's group of friends served in Vietnam. My oldest brother was there. My heart will always hold a super special affection for Vietnam Veterans because I remember the fear of ..."Will it be my brother, my cousin, my best friend, my best friend's Dad?" I always said the protesters made the biggest mistake by not embracing the returning Vets from the get go. They would have been demonstrators' best allies and I truly believe the war would have ended sooner. Every Veteran's Day I buy a very beautiful decorated cake, huge cake, and offer coffee and cake and a Memorial and Honor board for my customers at the branch of Wells Fargo where I work. I always decorate the board with photos of the Vietnam Memorials. I don't have to do it, but I want to and my customers truly appreciate it. But I appreciate the opportunity to let my Veterans know I am always proud of you. While I have and have had friends in all the wars, and Uncles and Cousins, my Vietnam Vets will ALWAYS be the men and women who get my first respect. All of you were the bravest of the brave in my book. So I hope you know, there are some of us who not only Thank you for your service, we love you, honor you and hold you forever in our hearts. God be with you.
I served in Vietnam in 1972 & have been to the wall in DC and had the honor of escorting the traveling wall both in IL, where I am from, and in Utah where I now live, with the CVMA motorcycle association. While escorting the wall in IL, we traveled down the highway to Morris IL. On the way there were people on the overpasses with flags cheering us on which was very special as we didn’t experience this when returning home from the war. However, the most moving moment was when a uniformed soldier stopped her car and saluted us as we went by. It was very hard to see where I was going after that. I am very proud of my service and would gladly do it again. This is still the greatest country on earth.
It is now 2020 but I just read your comment and want you to know I visited the traveling memorial when it was in Michigan and there were many visitors who had no direct connection to a person whose name was inscribed. It was a solemn and sad experience for me. At that time there were no logs of visitors. But I can assure you people do care.
Mr. Morgan, First allow me to say with great respect, welcome home. I grew up with the Vietnam War and it consumed the village of New Lexington, Ohio as we had, like so many places did, young men serving the call of their nation. It has always been a part of me to include, the grateful opportunity I have when meeting someone who had served in Vietnam. I realize I am unable to bring forth the words that you and so many others deserve and it is my hope you realize the war this nation tried so hard to move past, is not forgotten by those of us who recognize your patriotism to an ungrateful nation of the time and the honor each of you had for your fellow brothers of arms. God Bless you Mr. Morgan and again, welcome home. The family of Karl Kimball
For those of you who served in the Arm Services: I do thank you for your services. Because of you I am able to do things that others aren't able to.
as a drafted veteran who proudly did my duty. who returned and does still fight the war. ask that though many of us suffer. that we never forget the deepest pain of those mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters who lost they're loved ones. we being there had a closure, a reason they will never know. God bless all. from every war, conflict soldiers did their duty. for their pain we is different but deep.
Bujalski Lewis
I am unaware of any records of visitors that are kept. However, I do know that, in the American History Museum on the mall, they have a room that is filled with items that have been left at The Wall. It is a rotating display. Meaning that the items there are changed from time to time to reflect newer items that are left there. I also know that all of those items are kept, and logged, by the Smithsonian for future reference.

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