The names of four U.S. servicemembers were etched into the glossy black walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial this week alongside more than 58,000 of their fallen comrades.
Finishing the addition today was the name of Raymond C. Mason, a Marine lance corporal who died a year ago as a result of ailing health stemming from a bullet wound that paralyzed him in February 1968 during the Tet Offensive.
In a ceremony at the wall here, Mason's widow, Priscilla Mason, watched as an engraver inched a sandblaster over the Marine's stenciled name with surgeonlike precision.
Priscilla got on bended knee, held a sheet of paper up to the bright, new inscription, and rubbed a crayon in diagonal strokes until "RAYMOND C MASON" was embossed against the white paper. She said she plans to have the outline tattooed onto her skin, and she has promised to make dozens of rubbings for friends back home in Riverside, R.I., when she returns here on Memorial Day.
"This is wonderful. He's finally home," she said when asked how she felt upon seeing the finished product on Panel 41E, Line 64 of the memorial.
The names of Richard M. Goosens, a Marine lance corporal, and Dennis O. Hargrove and Darrell J. Naylor, both Army specialists fourth class, were inscribed here yesterday. The Defense Department determined that their deaths, which occurred years after the end of U.S. operations in Vietnam, resulted from wounds suffered in a combat zone there.
The wall's 58,260 etched names bear testament to the ultimate sacrifice paid by those U.S. troops, said R. James Nicholson, former secretary of Veterans Affairs.
"It's also a tangible expression of the gratitude of the American people for those who served and died there," he said in an interview today. "The hope is that more and more Americans will learn and grow to appreciate the sacrifice and the price that was paid to perpetuate our freedom."
Designed by architect Maya Lin and built in 1982, the memorial consists of two black walls sunken into the ground, with a rolling mound of earth behind it sloping toward a heavily trafficked street.
"It was Maya's vision for the memorial that it appear as a rift in the earth," said J.C. Cummings, architect of record for the memorial. "At the same time, the wall serves a practical purpose of separating the visitor from the noise and the traffic of Constitution Avenue and the noise of the city."
As a result, the architecture creates a quiet and contemplative atmosphere, he said, a design that allows visitors to have a respectful experience.
Jan C. Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, said adding the names this week completes the healing process for surviving friends and family members. The additions also reflect America's solidarity with its servicemembers of past and present, he said.
"When you join the service, you can feel comfortable that the service is going to stand behind you," Scruggs said in an interview today. "Especially the people who are serving today in Iraq and Afghanistan in combat, they need to know that we're behind them and we appreciate what they're doing."
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service