Opinion: The Wall: Twenty-five years of healing
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, celebrating its 25th anniversary this Veterans Day, is a symbol that the American people believe service to our country is honorable and worthy of recognition. American servicemembers have never defaulted on a contract with America, and the memorial affirms that Americans will never breach a contract with those who have served.
My involvement with the memorial is, without question, the most gratifying and rewarding experience I have ever had. As I look back on the last 25 years, it has resurrected memories that I had almost forgotten.
Before beginning my journey as a member of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial team, I served as an adviser to the Veterans Administration Medical Department, trying to get the Community Vet Center Program started. In addition, I served on the Military and Veterans Advisory Committee of the National Urban League.
When I joined the effort, the Memorial Fund was busy establishing credibility for this important undertaking. The atmosphere was much like ’Nam, because you never knew where or when the enemies of this project would strike and what form the attack would take.
Many people have heard of my response to comments made at a meeting organized by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., about the design. The proposed design for The Wall was called “the black gash of shame.” I had reached the limits of my patience and would not tolerate another slur on the design and color of this beautiful, sensitive memorial and its designer.
What many people do not realize was that we — the Memorial Fund staff and a few selected advisers, yours truly included — had met and discussed the situation and made a decision on the compromises we would accept. Gen. Michael Davison, who was my commander in Europe, asked if I wanted to present our proposal. I declined in his favor, because I felt it would carry more weight if he presented the proposal, and I had already exploded. That proved to be a great decision.
It is from this beginning that I became addicted to the memorial and Memorial Fund programs. I have been active in bringing this important era to our classrooms and, through education, using the lessons learned to build a better future. After all, today is yesterday’s tomorrow.
Still, I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave and get the country out of denial about the Vietnam era, to let us advertise all of the great advances that were made during that time, advances that to this day contribute to a better America.
As you can see, my life and history are so closely related to the memorial that they are inseparable. To visit this national treasure with veterans and watch the transformations is simply amazing. The memorial does promote healing.
The memorial really is a special place for all Americans, as represented by the 85 million visitors and 100,000-plus artifacts left at The Wall. Most important is the fundamental principle that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial would be apolitical. It has always been for healing, not venting repressed hostility. This is a great American story that I hope the entire country will appreciate.
Brig. Gen. George Price (retired) is a recipient of the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal, Commendation Medal and the Purple Heart. He serves on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Center Advisory Board, a group of educators, journalists, family members and former military leaders who are advising the Memorial Fund and National Park Service on the content of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Center, a visitors center being built on the National Mall. He lives in Columbia, Md.