Few memorials evoke as strong an emotional response as the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington. Like the war itself, the memorial is different from all the others surrounding it. Appropriately, it stirs an overwhelming feeling that you only understand if you’ve encountered “the Wall.”
For those who have never been to experience – and I say experience rather than see – the Vietnam War Memorial, the granite wall is stark, black and seemingly goes on forever as it lists more than 58,000 names of Americans who gave their lives in Vietnam, engraved in chronological order. Among the names of the fallen, you’ll also see the fingerprints, cheek prints, and tears of their loved ones on the wall. People do not just come to see the wall, they come to touch it and feel the sacrifice of our nation.
As the secretary of the interior, I am the steward of our lands, memorials, and monuments. It’s my job to oversee our nation’s war memorials on the National Mall, which are part of the National Park System. Caring for our Vietnam War Memorial would not be possible without the support of thousands of veterans and their families across the country. On Veterans Day, it is important to recognize the positive impact that veterans have on our nation when they return home, in addition to honoring their service.
Last month, the Butler County (Pa.) American Legion Riders drove down in buses to meet me in Washington. Led by president Dennis Christie and treasurer Bill McNutt, the group hand-delivered a $40,778.28 check for the upkeep of the Vietnam War Memorial as well as building of the future museum.
Their efforts, coupled with those of the Rolling Thunder chapters who wake up at the crack of dawn (sometimes earlier) to wash the wall before thousands of tourists arrive, will help maintain the memorial and will keep the memory of these fallen heroes alive for years to come.
Our nation must never forget the names on the Vietnam Wall. That is why the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the nonprofit that built the memorial, organized the reading of every single name on the Wall from Tuesday through Friday by veterans and the families and friends of loved ones who gave their lives in Vietnam. I’m proud to have participated in the reading this year.
This Veterans Day, I would like to especially recognize the Butler County veterans for sharing their time with me and their generosity with the memorial. After putting their lives on the line for their country, for their brothers and sisters in arms, and for freedom, the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and coast guardsmen of Butler County once again gave what they could as civilians – their time and money – to preserving and honoring our nation’s fallen.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is a retired Navy SEAL commander who served from 1986 to 2008.