After $23M Spent, Plans for Vietnam Wall Education Center Have Been Scrapped

A young girl walks along the wall at the Vietnam War Memorial before a wreath laying ceremony in Washington, D.C., March 29, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Daisha R. Sosa)
A young girl walks along the wall at the Vietnam War Memorial before a wreath laying ceremony in Washington, D.C., March 29, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Daisha R. Sosa)

In a stunning move, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund announced Friday that its long-stalled plan to build an education center next to the iconic "Wall" is being scrapped for lack of funding and general interest.

Following a meeting of the fund's board of directors, Chairman John Dibble said agreement had been reached to "terminate efforts to construct a physical building on the National Mall."

In a statement, he said, that "funding simply has not materialized" for the project, which originally was to have dealt with the history, context and legacy of the Vietnam War, and later was expanded in concept to include the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Instead of an underground center next to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the fund said it will now focus education efforts on mobile exhibits, online resources and "partnerships with military museums to teach visitors about the Vietnam War and honor those names that appear on the Memorial."

The decision by the board of directors followed a lengthy article by Task and Purpose on the internal struggles over the purpose of the Education Center, the failure to generate private donations, and the public's loss of interest in the project.

The concept for the education center was announced in 2000 by Jan Scruggs, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, the founder and president of the Memorial Fund and the prime mover in the project that resulted in the Wall listing the names of the more than 58,000 killed in Vietnam.

The memorial was dedicated in 1982.

The project eventually won approval from Congress and the Washington Fine Arts Commission for a parcel of land next to the memorial to be used for the education center.

At a symbolic groundbreaking in 2012, Scruggs said the center would also serve as a temporary memorial for the fallen of Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The veterans of Vietnam know what it is like to wait for a memorial -- a healing place -- to be authorized and constructed. Today's heroes shouldn't have to wait. Our goal is to have the education center at the Wall open in time to welcome home our last troops returning from Afghanistan," he said at the time.

The goal for an actual groundbreaking was set for 2020, but funding dried up. The center was projected to cost about $84 million, but funding pledges reportedly stalled at about $45 million, and that figure was in doubt.

Scruggs retired as president of the fund in 2014. It will now have to make arrangements to return the five-acre parcel of land reserved for the education center to the National Park Service.

In its statement, the fund said it had received a total of $45 million in donation commitments, and $5 million of that had yet to be received. About $23 million has already been spent on construction design, exhibit planning, awareness building, and preliminary work necessary for specific exhibits, it said.

About $17 million in donations had been limited to actual construction, it added, and those contributions might be returned after discussions with donors.

In his statement, Dibble said, "We know many veterans and supporters are disappointed in this outcome. We also are disappointed that the early enthusiasm and support did not result in a completed building. Since the idea was developed in early 2001, the world is a very different place."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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