New Jersey Vietnam Memorial
May 02, 2018

New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial

By Lori Draz

New Jersey Vietnam Memorial

As we commemorate Memorial Day, Historic Havens takes a look at a more recent part of history and the unique and striking museum and memorial that honors veterans of the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War, like the Civil War, polarized the nation; only this time television and film brought the war into people’s homes each night. The actual conflict dates back to the Truman era, though some historians trace its roots to the 1800’s. The core of the dispute was that communist regime of North Vietnam and its southern allies, the Viet Cong, battled against South Vietnam and its principal ally, the United States. According to History.com, “The divisive war, increasingly unpopular at home, ended with the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 1973 and the unification of Vietnam under communist control two years later. More than 3 million people, including 58,000 Americans, were killed in the conflict.” Of those 1,562 New Jersey men and 1 woman did not return home.

It is almost hard to believe that a place so moving, tranquil and impacting can be seen from the Garden State Parkway. Located on the edge of the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel,  it is much more than a memorial or museum. It is a place of reflection with powerful sculptures and even a real 1964 Huey helicopter, which was one of the main transports of war.

It is operated as a non-profit publicly funded Memorial, Museum and Education Center by the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation (NJVVMF) whose mission is to make sure that the history, legacies and lasting impact of the Vietnam Era as told through the eyes of New Jersey’s Veterans, will never be forgotten.

The Memorial was designed by Vietnamese designer Hien Nguyen, who came to the United States as a college student in the last days of the war. The 200-foot diameter, open-air pavilion, is lined with 366 black granite panels engraved with the names of those who died or remain missing in action. Its circular form is meant to embrace those names on the highly polished granite wall. The tunnel entrances symbolize the transition from the safety and security of our world to the very different realities of war. The trees lining the walkways evoke images of soldiers on tactical road patrol and the memorial’s centerpiece is a huge red oak, the state tree. Finally, the three bronze figures under the tree represent men and women of all races and backgrounds – symbolizing those who came home, the women who served and, those who did not return. The powerful bronze statues are the creations of Thomas Jay Warren of Trenton. The complex includes a companion Vietnam Era Museum, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, as well as numerous memorials dedicated to New Jersey’s Gold Star Families, the women, both military and civilian who served during the Vietnam War, the Vietnamese forces who fought alongside ours during the Vietnam War and the National War Dog Memorial. It is the only place of its kind in the country.  The Education Center offers on-going public and school programs and exhibitions to explore the complexities of the Vietnam Era in a way that is relevant today. They work with more than 10,000 NJ students and teachers each year.

The current exhibition Soundtrack of a Changing Nation explores the impact of the music of the Vietnam Era from the perspectives of five Vietnam Veterans.

On May 7, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., they will host the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Remembrance Day. The event will include a speaker and the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs will be presenting the Distinguished Service Medal to New Jersey Veterans. *Please note, wreaths are not presented at this ceremony. If you are interested in presenting a wreath, please contact them about Memorial Day.

On May 28 they will hold their annual Memorial Day ceremony at 11 a.m. In addition to honoring our Veterans, new Vietnam Veterans will be inducted into the In Memory Program. The event will also feature a speaker and musical entertainment, TBA. The Museum will remain open until 2 p.m. following the ceremony.

Along with a number of ongoing programs, additional ceremonies are planned in September and for Veterans Day.

The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 to 4 p.m. with tours conducted by Vietnam Veterans every day from 11 to 2 p.m. The Memorial is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The website is a very rich resource of the history of the complex and of the Vietnam War, and it contains a detailed calendar of events, ways to memorialize and to donate and volunteer so do visit www.njvvmf.org/events/ to learn more before your visit.