The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s most moving and powerful war memorials and its history started in Maryland with the vision and tenacity of Jan Scruggs.

Jan Scruggs, a native of Bowie, joined the U.S. Army in 1968 as the fighting in Vietnam raged. Trained as a mortarman, Scruggs was engaged in numerous combat actions and received the Purple Heart for wounds sustained in May of 1969. Scruggs returned to the United States in 1970 and spent the next several years in various jobs and traveling the country during a period which he self-described as “very disillusioned and disenchanted.”

By the mid-1970s Scruggs had found his way — completing a Bachelors’s and Masters’s degree in psychology, researching post-traumatic stress disorder. Then in 1979, after going to see The Deer Hunter, a Vietnam-themed drama, he experienced a night of vivid flashbacks and toward dawn, the idea of a national monument to Vietnam veterans came to him.

Initially, the concept was widely ridiculed and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, the nonprofit Scruggs quickly founded to begin fundraising for the project, floundered. Nevertheless, Scruggs persistence paid off and slowly he gained the necessary support in the private and public sector — and in the next two years, the Fund raised nearly $8 million.

In November of 1982, in spite of a controversial design and numerous financial challenges, the monument was dedicated.

Today, the monument stands as a stark and vivid reminder of the price the nation paid during the lengthy Vietnam war — and is also a testament to the perseverance of one Marylander with a vision.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

Maryland Public Television’s Vietnam Project