The Vietnam War Memorial, that tremendous marble monument etched with 58,315 names of fallen soldiers, is a powerful reminder of those who gave their lives for their country’s freedom.
The wall stands 247 feet long and over 10 feet tall at its highest point, providing a stirring experience for the millions of visitors who stand before it. It’s open to the public 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, allowing people to use paper and pencils to make a rubbing of an engraved name.
Given the hands-on nature of the monument, the Vietnam War Memorial requires continual upkeep to maintain the beauty and keep it polished and pristine.
Initially, the wall was only cleaned once a month, but some vets took action, as the Washington Post reported: “In 1998, dissatisfied with the job that the National Park Service was doing and upset that bird droppings had filled in some of the engraved names, Jan Scruggs of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund took action. He handed 37 toothbrushes to visiting vets from Wisconsin, who scrubbed the filth away.”
Local veteran groups now provide maintenance of the wall, and about every weekend in the spring and summer, when its peak tourist season, a different veteran group or volunteer group come before the tourists and wash the wall, spraying it down, then scrubbing and polishing it by hand.
It’s an impressive undertaking, but one done with care and love.
On Sunday, April 9, members of the Rolling Thunder biker club arrived ready to tackle the cleaning task. They were surprised that Interior Secretary and Navy SEAL Ryan Zinke was also there to assist.
An Independent Journal Review reporter observed the cleaning, which began at 6:15 with Zinke greeting the Rolling Thunder members and walking with hoses and buckets to begin work. The IJR has a descriptive play-by-play of the process, which includes spraying down surfaces, scrubbing the wall and sidewalk with brushes, and rinsing. Zinke was very involved in the cleaning project, as photos from the day indicate.
About an hour later, they completed the cleaning and posed for a group photo.
The reporter asked why Zinke wanted to assist. His answer was very straightforward: “Rolling Thunder is here to wash the wall. I’m here to help them.”
Those in attendance for the cleaning that day were also asked about why they wanted to be involved with this task. William De Blander, who served in DMZ in South Korea in the US Army, explained: “I got a friend on the wall who served with me. One of our goals in Rolling Thunder is to care for our vets and this is a great way to do it. We maintain this memorial to honor those men fallen and those who are still with us.”
Deb, a Gulf War veteran with the US Navy, commented: “It’s a way to pay back and give more service to the country and also to honor those who we lost in this war. We do this every month and it is a great honor to do it.”