December 20, 2012 - Washington, D.C. winters can mirror what many view to be characteristics of the city itself – cold and awful. The winter of 1981 was a textbook example of wintertime in D.C., in more ways than one. The fate of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was being decided in the halls of Congress and the Reagan Administration. A flurry of activities was orchestrated by well-funded opposition to Maya Lin’s design for The Wall. Her design was criticized as being too modernistic; referred to as the Black Gash of Shame and even compared to the Ovens of Dachau.
The National Security Council even got engaged; a syndicated columnist wrote that the design had been selected by a person with “ties to the American Communist Party.” Dozens of Congressman demanded that the groundbreaking permit be withdrawn and that the design be scrapped. There were editorials on both sides of the debate, and even Sixty Minutes got involved. Even though we had support from powerful groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, plans for the Memorial were about to be declared dead on arrival, the victims of politics and disinformation.
Chuck Hagel was a prime target for the opposition. He was the talented second-in-command at the Veterans image-1 Administration, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and a highly respected appointee in the Reagan Administration. He was told that he should join the team opposing Lin’s design. If he did not join the opposition, he would be out of work. Friends at the White House would see to it that he would be fired. Most people would have caved. Hagel did not.
There are a few examples of stunning courage in Washington. Most are unheralded, this was one. Hagel said, “I serve at the pleasure of the President. If he fires me for supporting a design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, so be it.
” Hagel never got fired. The opponents left, probably dazed at the outcome. Hagel went on to serve President Reagan in other capacities throughout the Presidency, and eventually, Nancy Reagan joined the National Sponsoring Committee for The Wall. A compromise was reached with the opposition, and in March 1982 we hosted an emotional groundbreaking. Hagel was a speaker. read more>>>