Damaged Vietnam Memorial Has Park Service Walking on Eggshells

Last Friday evening an oily substance that has proved extremely difficult to remove was splattered along an approximately 60 foot section of the wall, defacing panels bearing the names of the deceased as well as ornamental stones along the base. Mainstream media coverage has been sparse.

Veterans immediately attributed the defacement to anti-war groups that have threatened the memorial in past months, have defaced monuments and memorials nationwide, and are gathering in Washington this weekend to protest the War on Terror.

The outrage in the veteran community is palpable. In apparent fear of vets’ reaction,  some who sympathize with the anti-war group ANSWER (which is coordinating this weekend’s protests) have issued bogus news releases stating that there was no damage to The Wall. This led some veterans to speculate that ANSWER is hoping to convince veterans to avoid Washington this weekend.

Nonetheless, the Park Service has stopped short of labeling the incident as vandalism.

“The United States Park Police is investigating the matter. Until this investigation is completed, it is premature to speculate whether any intentional act was committed,” is the official statement.

Bill Line, NPS Communications & Tourism Officer for the National Capital Region adds that although crews have been working since Saturday to remove the substance, they don’t even know what it is, much less who splattered it on the memorial.

But one thing is certain. Despite the claims that were later retracted when discrepancies were noted, the incident most certainly does NOT appear to have been caused by an accidental spill of cleaning fluid by a park ranger. Park rangers are not involved in cleaning or maintenance of the memorial, Line confirmed.

The Park Service is hopeful, but not certain, that when the material is finally removed it will not have left any permanent damage.

Line says The Wall is constantly monitored by video cameras, and the tapes are being reviewed for evidence. He adds that the Park Service legally can’t claim vandalism or terrorism without all the facts at hand, thus it is proceeding cautiously.

When we veterans went to DC in March to confront ANSWER and its radical affiliates head on, neither the mainstream media nor the top conservative talk shows made note of our vigil.

Even after a huge showing of veterans and supporters that far outnumbered the ANSWER forces, the conservative talk circuit was nearly mum. The primary exceptions were Melanie Morgan, chairman of Move America Forward (and co-host of the morning drive time show on KSFO in San Francisco) and national columnist Michelle Malkin who participated in and filmed the March Gathering of Eagles vigil.

Many vets speculated that the media near-blackout was caused by a lack of trust and confidence in us by the very people who are supposed to be our staunchest supporters. Fearing an outbreak of violence for which we, and thus they, would be blamed, they were silent.

But no violence occurred in March, and we showed we were more than equal to the ANSWER forces, which were arrested in droves as a result of physical confrontations with police.

Malkin and Morgan again are at the forefront and providing steady coverage of Gathering of Eagles III. Morgan’s Move America Forward again is hosting a nationwide caravan that will arrive in DC to join the Gathering of Eagles Saturday, and which is experiencing an outpouring of support from mainstream Americans as it crosses the country.

“The crowds and especially the passion of those along the route have been exceptional,” Morgan said. “People have opened their hearts to the message that our troops are winning.”

Vets are justifiably outraged over the defacement of the Vietnam Memorial and concerned that other memorials will be in for similar treatment by ANSWER this weekend. But to consider that we will automatically resort to the violence we eschewed in March is to be grossly uninformed about our capabilities and our beliefs.

The surest way to prevent further vandalism to our memorials is to expose the deeds of those who defaced the Vietnam Memorial. Ignoring such incidents will only insure that further acts of desecration will follow.

Line declined to say whether the National Park Service is taking any extra precautions to protect the war memorials this weekend, noting the ANSWER protests are scheduled to take place between the White House and the Capitol several blocks away.

That may be a consideration. On the other hand, we should also consider that there were no protests planned in D.C., on the night of Sept. 7 when someone slipped up to the Vietnam Memorial unnoticed and spread a caustic fluid along 60 feet of its panels, disparaging the service and memories of those who died in that war.

And even if the Park Service is ultimately successful in cleaning the surface of the memorial, it is unlikely that the substance which has seeped into the unpolished surfaces of the wall will ever be totally removed, much as yet another scar on the hearts of more than two million Vietnam veterans will ever fully heal.