11.20.22: Memorial reflection

Visitors are reflected in the polished black granite wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Visitors are reflected in the polished black granite wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Vietnam Memorial no longer controversial site

Tech specs

  • Date/time: Mar 12, 2005 9:46 AM   
  • Camera: Canon EOS 20D
  • Lens: 28.0-135.0 mm 
  • Focal length: 80mm
  • Aperture: f/7.1
  • Shutter: 1/200 second
  • ISO: 200

I have a number of photographs of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and I’m always looking for new ways to capture the site. It’s a location with deep meaning to my generation. U.S. involvement in the war began escalating when I started elementary school. The U.S. withdrew forces while I was in college. The war was the background of my youth, always part of the evening news and the front-page headlines of the morning paper.

This photo shows visitors to the memorial reflected through some of the 58,320 names etched in the polished black granite panels, identifying members of the U.S. armed forces killed or missing in action. 

The wall, which was dedicated on Nov. 13, 1982, was the subject of controversy from the start. The design was selected by a panel of judges in a competition that attracted 1,421 submissions. The judges unanimously selected a design submitted by 21-year-old Maya Ying Lin, a Yale University architecture student from Athens, Ohio. 

According to Lin, her intention was to create an opening or a wound in the earth , symbolizing the pain caused by the war and its many casualties. "I imagined taking a knife and cutting into the earth, opening it up, and with the passage of time, that initial violence and pain would heal," she said.

Critics said the design looked like a scar in the earth and wasn't suitable for a memorial. But after my many visits to the site — often spending time watching the reactions of visitors — it’s obvious that the design captures the pain and emotions felt by those who lived through the Vietnam era.

The once-controversial memorial now draws more than 5 million visitors a year, making it the most visited memorial on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall.

According to Lin, her intention was to create an opening or a wound in the earth , symbolizing the pain caused by the war and its many casualties.

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Photographs and text: Copyright - Pat D. Hemlepp. All rights reserved. Photographs may not be used without permission.

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