American Veterans’ Traveling Tribute visits Union Township Oct. 9

The American Veterans’ Traveling Tribute will arrive in Union Township Wednesday evening, Oct. 9, amidst an escort of anywhere from 300 to 1,000 Ohio Patriot Guard motorcycles.

If you haven’t seen the wall in our nation’s capital, this 4/5 scale replica is the next best thing. It is 370 feet long and eight-and-a-half feet high at the apex. It was built in late 1997 and early 1998 and began traveling the country that year.

In many ways, the original wall, located between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall, was the first step in healing a country that became increasingly divided during the years of Vietnam. It was an ambitious project at the start, because a committee to raise funds had to be formed, the United States Congress had to be lobbied for a plot of land, the memorial had to be designed, and architects and contractors had to be chosen.

When Jan Scruggs, who served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 as an infantry corporal, founded Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Inc. (VVMF), he wanted the structure to acknowledge and recognize the service and sacrifice of all who served in Vietnam. Through the committee’s efforts, Senator Charles McC. Mathias Jr. introduced legislation to authorize a site of national parkland for the memorial and President Jimmy Carter signed that legislation on July 1, 1980 in the Rose Garden.

In October, 1980, the VVMF announced a national design competition for the memorial to any U.S. citizen 18 or order. By the end of December, 2,572 individuals and teams had applied for registration forms, and by the deadline of March 31, 1981, 1,421 design entries had been submitted. On May 1, 1981, a jury of eight internationally recognized artists and designers chose entry number 1026 as the winning design, saying it clearly met the spirit and formal requirements of the program. They felt its open nature would encourage access on all occasions, at all hours, without barriers, and yet free the visitors from the noise and traffic of the surrounding city.

At age 21 and still an undergraduate at Yale University, Maya Ying Lin was the winner of the competition to design the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. Later, she said she was aware of the controversy of the war it was remembering, but chose instead to concentrate on “ … the reality of war and … the people who gave their lives.”

Her use of the earth and its materials to create this monument lead one to see the possible proverbial arrows Lin laid to point to a “no-war” perspective. The black granite that laces the edge of a deep cut into the earth summons up dark images but also denotes the gravity of the loss of the dead and missing.

“I had an impulse to cut open the earth … an initial violence that in time would heal,” Lin said. “The grass would grow back, but the cut would remain,” showing that the war itself was a deep scar that could never be completely healed.

Although there were many proponents of the design, it was originally controversial for being what was at that time an unconventional and non-traditional design for a war memorial. Its black color and lack of ornamentation were not at once well-received. Some public officials voiced their displeasure, calling it a “black gash of shame.” Two prominent early supporters of the project, H. Ross Perot and James Webb, withdrew their support once they saw the design.

“I never in my wildest dreams imagined such a nihilistic slab of stone,” Webb said.

And opponents also voiced objection because of Lin’s Asian heritage. Her parents were Chinese immigrants.

Over the years, though, it is perhaps the simplicity of Lin’s design that draws tens of thousands to it every year. It has become an American shrine. It is a place of remembrance, remembrance of heroes. It is a place of reflection on the misery of war, no matter how noble the fight, because it is always accompanied by gut-wrenching grief. The wall Lin created literally mirrors these emotions, and so its oppositionists these days are few, as evidenced by the rubbings that are done at the wall, and by the personal tokens and mementos that are left daily.

In 2007, the American Institute of Architects ranked the memorial at number 10 on their list of America’s Favorite Architecture.

After a visit to the wall last year with her father, a Vietnam veteran, a blogger wrote:

“My dad pulled out a sheet of paper from his pocket and handed it to me. It was a list of names and dates. These were friends of his that lost their lives in that war. My father explained Maya Ying Lin’s design of the memorial – the first casualty meeting up with the last casualty (at the apex) and it just blew me away. Next, we walked the length of that wall together, pausing each time we came to one of the men on his list. Dad told me stories of each of them and I got to physically touch these courageous young men, thanks to Lin’s design. The experience is something I will never forget. It brought my father and I closer than ever and I, even for just a moment, got to feel war and what it can do to human beings.

“The reflection of my father’s face in that wall as he told me these stories is what this memorial is all about.”

The Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial was dedicated Nov. 13, 1982. The American Veterans Traveling Tribute will officially open at noon Thursday, Oct. 10.

The exhibit will run through Sunday, Oct. 13, at Veterans’ Memorial Park, Glen Este-Withamsville Road and Clough Pike, Union Township. The exhibit is free and open to the public 24 hours a day.

Parking is available at the Union Township Civic Center, 4350 Aicholtz Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45245. Free shuttle service to the park will be available. There will be limited parking at the park for the handicapped, and golf carts will be on hand to take those with disabilities over to the wall.

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