ONE GROUP of Vietnam veterans is not happy this Nov. 11. Some women who served in that war spearheaded a drive to have a statue honoring their female colleagues erected on the site of the existing Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Other national veterans' groups supported the effort too. But last month The Commission of Fine Arts, which must approve any addition to the national capital's monuments, turned down the project. One of the backers said the commission had "just insulted the women of America" and charged that the panel had been "insensitive to women." That is not a fair judgment.
Commission Chairman J. Carter Brown made a good case against the project on aesthetic and practical grounds. The statue, which was to be of an Army nurse, would have destroyed the delicate balance between the original Maya Lin wall and the existing memorial sculpture of three infantrymen. Its placement would have been wrong -- and obscured by surrounding trees. Most important, a new statue specifically for female veterans would have set a bad precedent, perhaps prompting similar efforts by ethnic groups, those from individual services and others representing specialties or units within the services. The wall, as Mr. Brown points out, is already particularly inclusive, carrying the names of all 58,157 Americans who died in the Vietnam War, including eight women. It is a unifying memorial, and separate statues for special groups would distract from the whole.
The 10,000 women who served in Vietnam performed important and often heroic work, and they deserve to be honored. Sponsors of the women's memorial point out that there would have been many more casualties were it not for the dedication of the female nurses in particular. And on Veterans Day they are always, and should be, remembered and praised. Last year, Congress authorized the construction of a memorial on federal land to honor women in the armed services. The rejection of a plan to use the existing Vietnam memorial site does not diminish the nation's respect for these veterans or preclude the dedication of a special memorial at another place