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These Emotional Pictures Show How People First Reacted To The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

In 1981, a 21-year-old undergraduate student won a national contest to design what would become one of the most iconic war memorials in the country.

Posted on November 11, 2019, at 4:52 p.m. ET

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In 1980, seven years after the formal end of US involvement in Vietnam, Congress authorized a national competition to design a new memorial in Washington, DC, that would honor those who served in the war. Approximately 1,421 submissions were reviewed anonymously until a single design was chosen.

The winner of the competition was a 21-year-old undergraduate student named Maya Lin. Her design featured a large wall of black granite inscribed with the 57,939 names of those who died during the war. Lin described the memorial as "taking a knife and cutting into the earth, opening it up, and with the passage of time, that initial violence and pain would heal."

This bold design was not without controversy; some people viewed the wall as shameful and morbid, while others took aim at Lin's ethnicity and age. In November 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated before a crowd of thousands of people. The emotional response from the public was overwhelming as veterans, friends, and families turned out to pay their respects to those who sacrificed their lives during the Vietnam War.

These pictures show how Americans first responded to the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982.

Wally Mcnamee / Getty Images

A Vietnam War veteran searches the wall for the name of a fallen comrade in the days preceding the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

From left: Jan C. Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Maya Lin, and Project Director Bob Doubek display the final design for the memorial, May 6, 1981.

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Left: The original design submission by Lin. Right: Lin stands at the site where she wants the memorial to be placed, 1981.

Ron Edmonds / AP

Construction workers proceed with the building of the memorial near the Washington Monument, July 2, 1982.

Diana Walker / Getty Images

A ceremony takes place during the dedication of the memorial, 1982.

Getty Images

Left and right: Scenes from the 1982 dedication ceremony.

Chuck Fishman / Getty Images

A group of Vietnam veterans embrace after the dedication ceremony, 1982.

Diana Walker / Getty Images

A crowd is gathered at the memorial, 1982.

Getty Images

Left: A crowd of people with a sign thanking veterans during the 1982 dedication of the memorial. Right: A pair of cowboy boots are left in honor of a fallen soldier.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

A veteran in a World War I uniform holds up a folded US flag during the memorial's dedication ceremonies.

Diana Walker / Getty Images

Gen. William Westmoreland (center) on the day of the memorial's dedication.

Diana Walker / Getty Images

Veterans parade down the street on the day of the memorial's dedication.

Denver Post / Getty Images

A Vietnam veteran looks for familiar names on the memorial wall, 1982.

Diana Walker / Getty Images

A wreath and flag are placed on the memorial's wall on the day of the dedication ceremony.

Charles Tasnadi / AP

People trace the name of a loved one who died during the war, 1983.

Wally Mcnamee / Getty Images

People display signs of support for Vietnam veterans during a dedication ceremony, 1982.

Leif Skoogfors / Getty Images

A Vietnam veteran hugs a woman and holds a sign praising the memorial, 1982.

The Washington Post / Getty Images

Lin stands during the dedication ceremony, 1982.

Camerique

A US flag is reflected in the memorial's black granite surface, 1982.


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