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Every Week, Vietnam War Vets Wash Their Memorial Wall. Today, They Had Powerful Help

By Benny Johnson

The Vietnam War Memorial is hallowed ground.

In a city of gleaming white marble monuments and pink cherry blossoms, the black, sunken facade, etched with the 58,307 names of the fallen, stands out as a haunting tribute to the sacrifice of a generation.

The memorial itself stirs emotion. When anyone, young or old, looks into the polished volcanic rock of the wall, it looks back. At it’s highest point the wall is over 10 feet tall. It envelops its visitors with names of those who lost their lives in a war which lasted nearly two decades.

It can be overwhelming to visit. For the hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans still alive, it is a place of eternal significance.

The wall itself is open to the public 24 hours a day 365 days a year. It is our nation’s most embraceable monument. You can touch it, rest your head against it and cry on it. No one will stop you.

Paper and pencils are even provided at the memorial to encourage guests to make a stencil of an engraved name. Due to the hands-on nature of the memorial, it is imperative that the wall remains polished and immaculate, not just for the many millions of visitors a year, but for the legacies of the fallen etched within it.

Every Week, Vietnam War Vets Wash Their Memorial Wall. Today, They Had Powerful Help

In order to keep the memorial in pristine condition, local veteran groups offered to help with maintenance of the hallowed ground. The Park Service agreed. Now, approximately once every weekend in peak tourist season (spring and summer), a different veteran group or community service will arrive at sunrise, long before the throngs of tourists show up, to wash the wall.

The labor is intensive but in the end, every inch of the 247-foot wall gets sprayed down, scrubbed by hand and polished.

Many of the men and women who show up to clean are veterans themselves, cleaning a memorial built in their honor.

So it was on the morning of Sunday, April 9, when Virginia and Maryland chapters of Rolling Thunder rode into the memorial before sunrise. Clad in leather motorcycle gear with a colorful array of patriotic patches sewn in, a dozen members of the iconic biker club, most of them veterans, readied for an hour of washing and scrubbing the black wall.

Today, however, they had some extra help. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke would be scrubbing alongside them.

Every Week, Vietnam War Vets Wash Their Memorial Wall. Today, They Had Powerful Help

Zinke has taken an immersive approach to his new job, which happens to include oversight of America’s national parks and monuments. The Secretary rode a horse into the office on his first day, shoveled snow off the Lincoln Memorial steps after a snowstorm, gave stunned tourists a personal tour of the cavernous cathedral beneath the Lincoln Memorial, and has engaged in international sock diplomacy.

Today, the Trump appointee and Navy SEAL continued his hands-on approach to the office by hand-scrubbing the smudges and bird droppings off the Vietnam War Memorial.


6:43 a.m.:
Zinke uses a large scrub brush covered in suds to wash the very top of the memorial. Between scrubbing sessions, he makes small-talk with veterans and park service officers.

Every Week, Vietnam War Vets Wash Their Memorial Wall. Today, They Had Powerful Help

7:17 a.m.:
Zinke and the Rolling Thunder bikers have scrubbed and rinsed the entire wall. The memorial is wet and slippery but it glistens brightly. The team gathers for a group photo.

Every Week, Vietnam War Vets Wash Their Memorial Wall. Today, They Had Powerful Help

Read more, plus more photos at Independent Journal Review





  1. I visited the Wall in August, 2010 while attending Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor Rally. I searched for the names of two close boyhood friends who lost their lives in that conflict. The first I found with no trouble, but the second required the help of a park ranger with a hand-held electronic device. Afterwards I just sat in the grass and wept.

    1. I am retired Navy also. I lost a good friend way back in 1966. My friend went to Nam, I went on board a Navy ammo ship. I have never been to the wall in DC. but I will go, I will find his name and I too will sit on the grass and weep.

      1. JP, it’s an emotionally overwhelming experience, at least it was for me. My friends died in ’66 also. We were inseparable hunting and fishing buddies as kids. If we were closer, I’d be joining the cleaning crew on a regular basis. God bless the guys who do this.

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