After two hours of often stirring testimony, the Commission of Fine Arts yesterday voted 4-1 to reject the proposed Vietnam Women's Memorial, the key element of which is a bronze statue of a nurse at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Constitution Gardens.
Commissioners who opposed the addition expressed their beliefs that the veterans memorial is symbolically complete and that to approve the proposal would establish a precedent for placing other figurative statues there. "It will never end," said Chairman J. Carter Brown, referring to other proposals.
Reaction was swift and bitter. The commission "just insulted the women of America," said Stephen Young, vice president of the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project, shortly after the vote. "What they said is, 'We're basically going to beinsensitive to women.' That's what men have done for a long time."
Donna-Marie Boulay, a Vietnam veteran and one of the founders of the VWMP, issued a statement accusing the commission of "prejudging the project's request before ever hearing the testimony" and declaring, "This matter is far from over. We are going to pursue it aggressively."
Although the addition has been approved by Interior Secretary Donald Hodel, who submitted a letter of support, it also needs approval by the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission, according to the law establishing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Boulay said the women's memorial group has yet to decide specifically what course of action to take in view of yesterday's vote.
Sen. David F. Durenberger (R-Minn.), commenting that women are the "unsung heroes" of the Vietnam war and other wars, testified that the addition is necessary in order to "complete" the veterans memorial, which consists of a V-shaped wall of black granite designed by Maya Lin and containing the names of all American military fatalities in Vietnam; a flag standard; and a realistic statue of three infantrymen, designed by Frederick Hart.
The Hart sculpture and flagpole were added to the memorial in 1984 after intense controversy over Lin's design. A letter from Lin, stating that she is "as opposed to this addition as I was to the last," was read at yesterday's meeting. Hart, now a member of the commission, did not vote, but he testified that his statue was intended to be "a symbol for the entire population" of those who served in Vietnam. Brown agreed, saying that "one could understand that the figures there are symbolic of humankind."
Diane Carlson Evans, another of the VWMP founders and, like Boulay, a Vietnam veteran, pointed out that very few monuments in the Washington area pay tribute to women who serve in the armed forces "and thus we continue to stereotype the American soldier as male." Retired Army lieutenant colonel Carl Stout, of the Vietnam Veterans of America, said that because of this lack, American military women "desperately need this particular symbol," referring to the proposed statue.
But commission member Neil Porterfield, a landscape architect, observed that visitors "would need a map to find" the statue, intended to be placed in a grove of trees on the southern edge of the site. "It's not going to achieve what is proposed," he said.
Robert Doubek, former project director of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, pointed out that Congress adopted a law last year approving "a memorial on federal land" to honor "women in the armed services." Boulay later responded, "We've got to start somewhere, and this is the perfect place to start."