Wis. Veterans Turn Vietnam Wall Ceremony Into Cleaning

June 24, 1998

Vietnam veterans from Wisconsin, bringing three granite memorial stones to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, yesterday ended up cleaning the famous black wall with toothbrushes.

About 200 of the veterans, all riding motorcycles, brought the stones from their home state to acknowledge the 150th birthday of Wisconsin and to honor the Harley-Davidson company located there. However, their brief ceremony turned into an impromptu cleaning session when Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund President Jan Scruggs showed up and demanded that the National Park Service take better care of the memorial.

“We had been assured in the past that the wall would be cared for,” Scruggs said. “I don’t know how they can stand there with bird dung on the wall and say they are doing a good job.”

Scruggs, who handed out 37 toothbrushes he said he had just purchased at $ 1 apiece, was protesting what he said was the Park Service’s longtime neglect of the memorial. He said people who visited the wall on Father’s Day had called him to complain that the bird droppings had filled in some of the engraved names, making it impossible to do keepsake rubbings.

Scruggs’s protest continues a dispute he has had for years with the Park Service, which he believes should give daily attention to the memorial.

Park Service spokesman Earle Kittleman said the agency was surprised by both the brief memorial service and the toothbrush cleaning, since no one had applied for a permit.

“We took great pains to explain to them that we do keep it clean and that we prefer that a memorial of this importance be cleaned under controlled conditions,” Kittleman said. “We do feel we give it a high level of care.”

Scruggs said he will monitor the wall’s maintenance on a weekly basis and, if need be, hire his own cleaning crew with funds from the memorial foundation.

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