New cracks discovered in Wall at Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Jan C. Scruggs, shows an example of the new cracks discovered in the Wall and gives one theory as to why they are appearing.
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 7, 2010; 10:53 PM

A team of geophysicists has discovered a new series of cracks in the black granite Vietnam Veterans Memorial, officials said Thursday.

The experts from Hager-Richter Geoscience were called in this week by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which built the wall, after an unusual vertical crack was discovered late last year.

The consultants began inspecting the Wall on Monday and discovered more vertical cracks, said the fund's president and founder, Jan C. Scruggs.

Most of the cracks are small - a few inches long - and are scarcely visible to the casual viewer. But the Wall has a history of cracks going back to 1984, two years after its dedication.

In 1986, two of the 144 slabs, or panels, that make up the Wall were removed for study. Scruggs said the cause of the cracking has never been clear.

One theory is that the polished stone might bend outward when heated by the sun. Scruggs said the surface of the stone can be 20 degrees warmer than the air temperature. "These panels get hot, and they bow out like a bow and arrow," he said.

Asked about the cause of the cracks, Dorothy Richter, president of New Hampshire-based Hager-Richter, said: "There have been a lot of theories offered over the many years. . . . We're constantly thinking about what might have caused the fractures. . . .We do not know with certainty."

Gene Simmons, Richter's husband and the company's vice president, said the stone is no more prone to cracking than any other type of granite.

Scruggs said Thursday that a volunteer at the Wall found the first vertical crack about a year ago. "We looked at it as sort of an odd thing, because there have been a number of [earlier] cracks . . . but they're horizontal," he said.

"It actually looks worse than it did," he said of the crack found last year. "But we've been monitoring it."

The Wall, on the Mall near the Lincoln Memorial, bears the names of 58,267 people who perished or are missing in action as a result of the Vietnam War.

It was designed by architect Maya Lin and dedicated Nov. 13, 1982. The Wall is among the most visited tourist sites in Washington, with about 3 million or 4 million visitors a year, Scruggs said.

Its stone was quarried in Bangalore, India, Scruggs said, and the fund has several blank panels in storage in case one is severely damaged. He also said the fund wants to buy more spare panels to have enough for the Wall's replacement in the future.

Richter and Simmons said that their investigation would run through Friday and that they would probably have a report ready in a few weeks.

"Maybe we worry too much about it," Scruggs said. "But that's the way we do things."

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