Creating the Vietnam Veterans Memorial by Robert W. Doubek

Robert W. Doubek says he is “blessed and cursed with a sharp memory.” I totally believe him after reading his Creating the Vietnam Veterans Memorial: The Inside Story (McFarland, 324 pp., $35, paper).

Bob Doubek tells the story from his recollections and personal notes, calendars, photos, and news clippings, supplemented by material from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Collection archives, as well as public records including those from the Library of Congress. Consequently, the depth of his account appears limitless.

After much controversy involving Maya Lin’s design, the Wall was dedicated in 1982. The book is a good read because Doubek, who was an important player in the Memorial’s early history, describes the fervor, as well as the pettiness and rancor ,displayed by those for and against the design, himself included.

As executive director of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Doubek was “in charge of building the Memorial,” he writes, “participated in every major decision and event.” Differences of opinion between him and co-VVMF founder Jan Scruggs, as well as with another early proponent of the Wall, Jack Wheeler, were practically a daily occurrence. All of the men were Vietnam War veterans; each had a highly personalized perspective of the Memorial’s purpose.

The biggest problems during planning and building were finding sponsors, raising money, and determining the Memorial’s design. The earliest sponsor was Sen. John Warner of Virginia, who later played a crucial role in resolving many stalemates. H. Ross Perot also took an early interest in the project. The Memorial’s most important boost came from President Jimmy Carter when he signed into law a bill that provided a site on the Mall for the Wall in Washington, D.C. Money accumulated slowly but at an ever-increasing pace of public contributions.

In the book’s longest chapter, “Our Opponents Take the Field,” Doubek objectively presents the opposition’s resistance to the design. James Webb and Thomas Carhart were the major voices against the design. They enlisted the support of Perot, who had changed sides. Targeted were Maya Lin and the jury that selected her plan for the Memorial during a nationwide contest. Opponents tried to discredit them with false accusations and prejudicial arguments.

The media split on the topic. Doubek likens a face off between Lin and Perot to Bambi Meets Godzilla, but for once Bambi survived. Throughout the dispute, by the way, Vietnam Veterans of America endorsed the Memorial’s design.

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Jan Scruggs, Maya Lin, and Bob Doubek with a model of Lin’s design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Doubek, Scruggs, and Wheeler stood together against the opposition. After the compromise of adding a statue and a flagpole to the site, groundbreaking proceeded as planned.  Nevertheless, the design debate raged until the dedication ceremony. Even after the dedication, there were disagreements about where to place the statue and flagpole.

One factor not discussed by Doubek is the tremendous psychological and spiritual impact the Memorial has exerted on Vietnam War veterans. In dozens of memoirs I have read, veterans cite visits to the Wall as turning points in their lives. In a somewhat magical way, the sight of the Wall and the visitors surrounding it gives many veterans a clearer understanding of the war and their involvement in it.

To me, this effect above all else validates the construction of the Memorial.

—Henry Zeybel

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