"Until today, only two American heroes have had their names on the Mall: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Now those two are joined by these 665."
With those words, Jan Scruggs, president and founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF), unveiled the first of 140 polished black granite slabs inscribed with the names of the men and women lost in the Vietnam war. The vertical panels make up the sunken, V-shaped Vietnam Veterans Memorial under construction on the Mall.
The panel unveiled yesterday bears the names of the 665 members of the armed services killed or missing in action in the war from June 2 to July 8, 1970. According to Scruggs, this slab was the first set in place "because it just happened to be the first finished."
Four families of those whose names appear on the panel were at yesterday's brief, late-morning ceremony at the monument's site, between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Michael Mote lost his brother, Lt. Terry A. Mote, a helicopter pilot, on July 1, 1970. Mote said he thought it important for people visiting the memorial to "keep the issue of the war separate from the issue of the men who died. We're honoring the men who fought and died, not the war." Lt. Mote's parents, of Boyds, Md., his other brother, his sister, daughter, and his widow were also at the unveiling.
"I'm pleased, in a way, that this is happening," said Theresa Turowski, who lost her son Joseph in Vietnam on June 22, 1970. "I think it's a great honor for his name to be up there," she said. "I think it's about time they did something." Turowski, of Baltimore, was with her husband, two other sons, a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.
Joseph McDermott II of College Park, Md., the father of Spec. 4 Joseph McDermott III, and Berna and Ralph Stroud, of Silver Spring, Md., the parents of Staff Sgt. Allan Stroud, also attended the ceremony.
"For these men," Scruggs told the gathered relatives and reporters, "we have done all that we can. They are looking down on us and they are undoubtedly very proud. We did this because we wanted their relatives to be comforted."
Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), a Vietnam veteran, and Emogene Cupp, whose son was killed in Vietnam and buried on his 20th birthday, spoke briefly at the unveiling. It was Cupp who actually drew aside the blue curtain covering the 10-foot-high panel, which was flanked by an eight-member color guard from American Legion Post 108 in Cheverly, Md. Six of the guard's members had served in Vietnam.
Work on the memorial site, which is muddy and strewn with construction debris, was interrupted for the unveiling. Several of the workmen, their hardhats tucked under their arms, watched the ceremony from the 200-foot-long memorial's upper rim.
After the unveiling, the four families were escorted to the panel in turn and shown their relative's name. Each family member was handed a red rose, which was placed in a white vase at the foot of the gleaming, almost mirrored, granite slab.
Robert Doubek, the project director, pointed out the name to each family and explained in a soft voice how the names will be arranged on the memorial. They will run chronologically, according to date of death, beginning on the first panel to the right of the memorial's apex, and moving out to the right along the east wing; the names begin again at the outside edge of the memorial's west, or left-hand, wing. The names, inscribed in Optima typeface with letters about one-half inch high, have dots denoting those killed, crosses marking those missing, and will cover 140 of the memorial's 148 slabs. There will be 57,692 names.