In yet another chapter in the long, bitter struggle over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the House of Representatives voted yesterday not to award prestigious Congressional Gold Medals to three veterans who headed the effort to build it.
"It is inappropriate to honor those who build monuments. It is only appropriate to honor those whose names appear on the monument wall," said Rep. Thomas Ridge (R-Pa.), a Vietnam veteran who led the opposition to the awards to Jack Wheeler, Jan Scruggs and Robert Doubek.
These men founded the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which raised $7 million from the public to build the controversial black granite monument near the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall. The names of more than 58,000 U.S. troops who died in the war are engraved on the granite wall.
"I am not casting aspersions on the three nominees here today," Ridge said, adding that ld,10 sw,-1 sk,1 Congress should not "ignore all the rest" of those who helped build the memorial. The Gold Medal is Congress' highest civilian honor; Harry Truman, Jonas Salk, Robert Frost and John Wayne are among the recipients.
Yesterday's House vote was 225 in favor of the award, 185 against, but a two-thirds majority was needed. The Senate had already approved the award. The House had defeated only one other proposed award in the past 15 years -- to sailor Gerald Spiess in 1980.
Last week Ridge proposed in a subcommittee that veterans James Webb, Milton R. Copulos and Tom Carhart also receive Gold Medals, but this was voted down. The three had been active in opposing the memorial design as unheroic, and their efforts eventually led to the addition at the memorial site of a bronze sculpture depicting three U.S. combat troops.
Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich.), who led the effort to award the medals, said yesterday he was "outraged that there are still those who opposed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and are ready to sacrifice Vietnam veterans to their anger."
"There's no question we are still wrestling with the demons of Vietnam," said Wheeler, chairman of the Memorial Fund. He added that he is "grateful to have been able to have a role in building the memorial."
Scruggs, the fund's president, declined to comment on the vote.
"For me," he said, "it was just a great satisfaction to build the memorial and to take part in an effort that's done so much for our country. My only goal was to get the names of the 58,000 Americans on the memorial, and that's been accomplished."