There are few words in the English language
that conjure up more emotions for more people than the word "Vietnam."
Over the past 30 years, it has alternatively meant suffering and sacrifice,
patriotism and pain, liberty
and loss. Thanks largely to people like Jan Scruggs -- and all the men and women who helped make the Vietnam Veterans Memorial possible -- it has also meant healing and reconciliation.
When I first came to Congress as a young Vietnam
veteran more than 20 years ago, a group of us -- including Senator Tom
Harkin and Congressman David Bonior -- founded the "Vietnam-era Veterans
caucus" in Congress. Together, we fought to bring attention to the needs
of Vietnam Veterans, at a time when nobody really wanted to discuss them.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial does something that took America far too
long to do: it honors the sacrifice of our veterans. It celebrates their
memory. It tells them we're proud. And it
thanks them for a job well done.
We are here today to make two announcements that will help us widen that circle of healing and broaden the circle of learning -- not just for this generation, but for generations of Americans to come. Before I begin, I want to share a story people tell about the building of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
When the foundation for the Wall was being
poured in 1982, early one morning, a man came up to the workers who were
pouring the concrete. He said that he and his brother were fighter pilots
together in Vietnam. But his brother
never came home. From the day he returned home, this man carried the Purple Heart that was awarded to his brother who had died in combat. He asked the workmen if they would mind if he threw the Purple Heart into the foundation. No one minded, so he did. Then, with the workmen watching, he took two steps back, he came to attention, he saluted his brother, and he said, "Now, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has a heart."
I think that story has special meaning for
us today. The brave Americans whose names are on that Wall may live today
in granite -- but their hearts still beat inside each and every one of
us. The Wall serves as a reminder that
these young men and women weren't just soldiers -- like all the brave young Americans who fought for our country, these names belong to people who were brothers and sons, husbands and wives, mothers and daughters with hopes and dreams just like the rest of us.
All Americans should be able to experience
the healing power of that Wall -- but not all Americans have the means
to travel to Washington. So, on two years ago tomorrow, the Vietnam
Veterans Memorial Fund created a
half-size replica of the Wall to travel around the country, and widen that circle of hope. It doesn't just honor their memories, it celebrates their lives -- carrying dog tags, medals, and other mementos that have been left at the Wall over the years. Today, we take that idea one step further. I am proud to announce that we are using the power of the digital age to bring the Vietnam Veterans Memorial into homes and schools across America.
First, I am proud to announce that the Vietnam
Veterans Memorial Fund -- in partnership with WinStar Communications --
has developed a virtual Vietnam Veterans Memorial that all Americans can
visit on the Internet. This means that anybody who can run their hands
across a computer keyboard will be able
to make contact with the names on the Vietnam Wall and learn even more about them. By next year at this time, people will be able to click on a name on their computer screen, and it will instantly bring up a picture and a
history of the person whose name is on the screen -- and even an oral history of
that person spoken by a friend or family member.
To help make this vision a reality, we are
inviting all Americans to lend their memories and their voices to this
project. Starting tomorrow, the traveling Vietnam Wall will be equipped
with kiosks that people will be able
to use to record their memories of friends or loved ones who served in Vietnam. In addition, the new web site will be interactive. With the touch of a button, you can either type in your memories, or record them using a
microphone -- and those stories will be collected back in Washington, and then
posted as part of the virtual Vietnam Wall. The web site is at www.thevirtualwall.org , and the site will be up and running at midnight onVeterans Day.
In addition, I am proud to announce today that
some of Americas most distinguished historians, educators, veterans, and
thinkers are coming together to create a nationwide program to educate
high school students
about the Vietnam War. This program -- entitled the "Young Americans Vietnam War Era Studies Project" -- will be led by people like Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Stanley Karnow, who wrote the book, "Vietnam -- a History." This program will be distributed to all 25,700 high schools in America, and will include all forms of media -- including an Internet Education Center that will focus on the historical, social, and political aspects of the war.
On this Veterans Day week 1998, as we celebrate
all Americans who fought to keep us free, let us be strengthened by their
courage, heartened by their valor, and let us continue to stand up for
the ideals for which they lived
and died. And let's do all we can to carry out what must have been the last wish of those who fought so bravely: that no other generation of young men and women will every have to share their experience, or repeat their sacrifice.
In the end, that is the highest tribute we can ever pay.