Oily Substance on Wall Was Vandalism, Not Accident, Police Say

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The unidentified substance that was found splashed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial earlier this month was the result of vandalism, the U.S. Park Police said yesterday.

Sgt. Robert Lachance, a Park Police spokesman, said that a detective made the conclusion but that officials would provide no more details because the investigation is continuing.

Lachance said the case would involve a long-term investigation. "It's a terrible crime, and we want to solve it," he said.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which built the Wall, offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.

The oily substance was first reported to police the evening of Sept. 7, National Park Service officials have said. Yesterday, dark blotches remained along a stone curb at the base of the Wall for much of its length, and at least 14 of its 140 inscribed panels, marked with pieces of blue tape, bore what appeared to be stains from something being splashed on them.

Park Service officials said they did not know what the substance was and at first said it was unclear whether it was the result of vandalism or some kind of accident.

Spokesman Bill Line said maintenance and preservation crews were working to remove the stains and marks but were proceeding cautiously to avoid further damage.

He said the crews were trying to avoid pushing any residue into cracks or grout in the stone. "We're purposefully going to take our time," he said. It could take a week or more to finish cleaning, he said, but officials remain confident they can remove all of the stains.

The black granite Wall, dedicated in 1982, bears the names of more than 58,000 men and women killed or missing in the Vietnam War. It is one of the most visited tourist sites in Washington.

"It's deplorable that someone would vandalize what's really a national shrine," said Jan C. Scruggs, founder and president of the Memorial Fund. "It's an outrage. It's sad."

He said the memorial is open 24 hours a day year-round and has been visited by an estimated 80 million people.

"No organized group would ever be a part of anything like this," he said. "But there are deranged individuals in our society, and I think one has visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial."

Yesterday, Dianne Seals, 60, of Cedarville, Ohio, was visiting the Wall with her husband, Greg, 60, and father, Stuart Chaffe, 87, to make a rubbing of the name of Todd A. Handy, whom she had dated in high school.

"He was sent to Vietnam, and he died over there" at age 20, she said.

"I think it's horrendous that somebody would do that," she said of the vandalism. "I think these men had suffered enough, not only fighting such an unpopular war, but coming back then to people that did not honor them. And then to have this happen as well, I think it's a terrible thing."

Her husband said: "It's uncomprehendible to me to understand how anybody that's a citizen of our country can be so unpatriotic. I just don't understand it."

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