The Smithsonian published an online exhibit and timeline (LINK) of recent American Wars.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has been a site where mourners have left very personal items and which the National Park Service has collected and archived.
This collection of objects was left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall during the time period from May to June 1989. Left at Panel 3E.
From 1992 until 2003, the National Museum of American History, in conjunction with the National Park Service, mounted a major exhibit entitled “Personal Legacy: The Healing of a Nation” of more than 1,500 objects that had been left at the Memorial over it’s first 10 years. This was the first time any of the objects from this collection had been placed on view for the public. Many of the objects were service related such as military patches, dog tags, and service bars. Other objects were things of a more personal nature such as photographs, letters and teddy bears. The curator’s tried to include objects that were representative of the different types of objects that are now part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection, at the National Park Service.
Visitors began leaving tokens of remembrance at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982, while it was still under construction. Flags and flowers historically have decorated veterans’ monuments, but the presence of many other mementos is unique to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The first, a Purple Heart, was thrown by a Vietnam veteran into the wet cement of the Memorial’s foundation.
Since then, visitors from at home and abroad have left more than 25,000 keepsakes at the Memorial, collected daily by National Park Service rangers. Each has its own story, often known only to the donor. This collection of messages and gifts from the heart was created by relatives, former comrades-in-arms, friends, neighbors, and members of civic and fraternal organizations. It expresses the love, grief, and pain they associate with the 58,220 names on the Memorial’s 140 black granite panels.
This unsolicited outpouring occurs year round, particularly at Christmas, Memorial Day, July 4th, and Veterans Day. The gifts also commemorate birthdays of dead and missing veterans and other days of personal importance. This selection of remembrances provides us an opportunity to ponder the continuing impact of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the generation that lived through that conflict.”
I’ve visited “The Wall” once, a long time ago, and it had an emotional impact that I wasn’t expecting; I left nothing physical except tears. This is an inspired work. I’m glad the NPS didn’t throw these words and relics away.
Today we have remembered American war dead with parades, speeches, flags, communal meals, photographs, candles and with quiet thoughts. And we pray that those fighting and serving now will come home safely and be treated fairly.