American Icons: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

This is the monument that changed how America remembers war. 

How do you build a monument to a war that was more tragic than triumphant? Maya Lin was practically a kid when she got the commission to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall. “The veterans were asking me, ‘What do you think people are going to do when they first come here?’” she remembers. “And I wanted to say, ‘They’re going to cry.’" Her minimalistic granite wall was derided by one vet as a “black gash of shame.” But inscribed with the name of every fallen soldier, it became a sacred place for veterans and their families, and it influenced later designs like the National September 11 Memorial. We’ll visit a replica of the wall that travels to veterans’ parades around the country, and hear from former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel about how this singular work of architecture has influenced how we think about war.  

Bonus Track: Kurt Andersen's full interview with Maya Lin

Hear Kurt's full interview with Lin about what it was like to stir up a national controversy at such a young age, and how her artistic career has evolved in the three decades since the memorial was created.


Bonus Track: Angela Matthews remembers Joseph Sintoni

Angela Matthews reads the letter she left at The Wall for her high school sweetheart, Joseph Sintoni. It was featured in Laura Palmer's book Schrapnel From the Heart


Images from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Memorial Resource Center 

A watercolor from Maya Lin's entry to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial 1981 design competition. She designed the memorial at only 21 years old as part of her architecture classwork at Yale University.


Music Playlist

  1. Electric Counterpoint – Slow (movement 2)

    Artist: Steve Reich
    Album: Different Trains/ Electric Counterpoint
    Label: Nonesuch
  2. Legions (War)

    Artist: Zoë Keating
    Album: One Cello x 16 Natoma
    Label: Zoë Keating
  3. Insight

    Artist: Kristin Rule
    Album: The Knife that Cuts a Tear
  4. More than Just a Name on the Wall

    Artist: Statler Brothers
    Album: The Definitive Collection
    Label: Mercury Nashville
  5. Tourtour

    Artist: Wim Mertens & Glenn Branca
    Album: Belly of an Architect
    Label: Import [Generic]
  6. Gotta Go to Vietnam

    Artist: John Lee Hooker
    Album: Urban Blues
    Label: Geffen
  7. The Viet Nam Blues

    Artist: Jack Sanders
  8. Sun Will Set

    Artist: Zoë Keating
    Album: One Cello x 16 Natoma
    Label: Zoë Keating