The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has proved such a popular tribute to those who served in the nation's most divisive war in the last century that the million people who have visited it since it opened in November have trampled the freshly planted sod and ruined a large portion of it.

As a result, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which raised $7 million to construct the V-shaped black granite monument, has already had to strip a swath of sod 20 to 30 yards wide from the bowl-shaped slope in front of the monument, leaving for the moment a grayish mixture of clay and mud.

"The sod problem is one of too many people too soon," said Bob Carter, the fund's executive vice president. "We never gave it a chance to work."

Starting today, workers will strip off the six inches of clay-heavy topsoil that buttressed the sod and eventually lay new drainage pipes, a revised mixture of sand-based topsoil and a new batch of sod, the fund's project director, Robert Doubek, said.

The entire knoll surrounding the memorial "is turning out to be much more a high traffic area than we'd expected," Doubek said, and so experts in growing grass on athletic fields are now being consulted about the resodding effort.

"We expected the site to take a beating during the dedication," he said. Nonetheless, a decision was made not to rope off the area covered by the four-week-old sod because of the dedication's importance to so many people. What the dedication organizers had not counted on was two inches of rain the night before the Nov. 13 ceremony and the ensuing damage that the 150,000 who attended the dedication would cause by standing on the grass.

"If we'd had a normal growing season for the turf , it might have been OK," Doubek said.

Veterans, relatives of war victims and countless others have continued to flock to the memorial, several thousand a day when the weather is nice on weekends, according to National Park Service volunteer tour guide John Bender.

The area in front of the memorial is now covered by mulch, which Doubek says is a temporary solution. He said another attempt to grow grass will be made, possibly by roping off small sections at a time to give the sod a chance to take hold before people are permitted to walk on it.