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Vietnam Veterans Exhibition Opens At Interior Museum

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

National Park News

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne on Thursday showed the national news media through a new Department of Interior Museum exhibition of remembrance items visitors have left behind at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial over the past 25 years.

National Park Service curator Duery Felton, Jr., who describes, catalogs and stores these items of remembrance, stood in the background while Kempthorne fielded media questions. At the same time, longtime NPS volunteer Allen McCabe was just a few blocks away, in his usual position, answering visitor questions at the Memorial “Wall.”

The three men were linked by vocation and avocation Thursday as the nation began several days of activities in the run up to the 25th anniversary of the November 13, 1982, dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The activities culminate at the Wall this Sunday.

Leaning on a walking cane, Felton rocked quietly, forward and back, as Kempthorne described to reporters some of the 50 items in the exhibition, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial:  America Responds. Kempthorne detailed a story about the Harley Davidson motorcycle left at the wall in honor of 37 Wisconsin soldiers who remain “Missing in Action” with the Department of Defense.

The Harley is not a production cycle, but assembled from at least five different models. It has detailed art work on the saddle, fuel tank and other areas. Thirty-seven sets of dog tags hang over the front of the engine.

“No one has ridden this bike,” Kempthorne said. “That’s reserved for the soldiers who are missing. When one of them comes home, then it can be ridden; not before.”

The exhibition opens to the public this morning. The museum is located on the first floor of the Main Interior Building at 1849 C St. NW in downtown Washington. It is open during normal business hours.

Anniversary events actually began Wednesday with the reading of the names of the people on the Wall. Memorial volunteer Art Drescher of Philadelphia said there are currently 58,256 names on the wall. It will take about 65 hours to read all the names. Kempthorne will take a turn, one of nearly 2,000 volunteers who will read 30 names in a two-minute time period.

The Interior Museum exhibition also includes a look at how the Vietnam Veterans Memorial got its start – there are letters and photos from the late 1970s when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund was incorporated and began raising money for the memorial. There are letters from the memorial competition committee and a photo of 21-year-old Yale University student Maya Lin, whose design was the unanimous choice of the committee, standing in the snow at the wall shortly before it was dedicated.

The National Park Service has more than 100,000 items of remembrance from the Wall, Felton said. “It started even before the Wall was dedicated when a soldier threw his Purple Heart (medal) into the concrete that was being poured into the foundation.”

At least 25 million people have visited the Wall since it was dedicated, McCabe said. “The number of visitors hasn’t slowed a bit. People just keep coming back and I think that’s a message that tells American the price a generation was willing to pay, regardless of politics, they signed their names on the line, and gave their lives.”

In all, about $8.4 million was raised to build the Wall, the nearby sculpture of three U.S. soldiers, and the U.S. flag on the site. The money was raised entirely through contributions from corporations, foundations, unions, veterans, veteran organizations, civic organizations and more than 275,000 individual Americans.

The NPS took custody of the memorial in 1984. The NPS and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund host Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day ceremonies, add names of those determined to have died as a result of injuries sustained in the Vietnam War, and manage funds for the maintenance and repair of the memorial.
NPS rangers, at about 8 p.m. each day, collect items left at the Wall to honor the fallen. The items actually become part of the memorial until collected, when they become part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection. The items are tagged, given a unique identification number, described, identified, researched and cataloged. They are stored at the National Park Service Museum and Resource Center in Maryland. This facility is not open to the public.


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