Jan Scruggs grew up in the suburbs of Bowie, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. He lived a modest, blue collar life and wasn’t particularly well-known, yet he had a great deal of determination. He was an Infantry Corporal in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade of the U.S. Army, and became a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War after becoming wounded during his Vietnam experience. He received his law degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore and performed research on the impacts of post-traumatic stress disorder on soldiers of the Vietnam War while studying psychology at American University (AU) in Washington, D.C. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1975, and graduated from AUs College of Arts and Sciences with a master’s degree in psychology in 1977.
Before graduating from AU, Jan began to understand that there was a critical need to help veterans deal with the severe damage they had experienced from the Vietnam War. Through his research on war-induced post-traumatic stress disorder, he started developing the initial ideas on how to acknowledge the men and women who served, so that Americans would never forget their sacrifice. He gained a personal understanding of how important it was for Vietnam Veterans to be recognized and memorialized for their contributions to the controversial Vietnam War from his own experiences, as well as his studies.
Although he had little money and no political connections, he became passionately inspired to see his dream become a reality after seeing the movie The Deer Hunter in 1979. His studies in combination with his intense motivation, led to the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Jan Scruggs’ idea to begin the memorial was to honor the war’s veterans, while enabling the entire nation to recover from the Vietnam War through reconciliation by separating the issues of those who served and the public ridicule they faced, from U.S. war policies. He envisioned that by displaying their names, those whom died in combat would never be forgotten. In order to fulfill his vision, he conceived a plan for a memorial that would record the names of every soldier who died or was reported missing in the Vietnam War.
Scruggs created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc. a non-profit charitable organization with which to establish the memorial. As President of the organization, he used $2,800 of his own money and nearly $9 million from private donors. He assembled the support of other veterans, two U.S. Presidents and the U.S. Congress, and subsequently secured a site for the memorial. He initiated the country’s largest architectural competition to find a design for the memorial, which resulted in more than 1,400 submissions. The commission charged with creating it chose the most simplistic design proposed by Maya Lin, from Athens, Ohio, a twenty-one year old Yale University undergraduate student. The criteria used in the design of the memorial stated that it should be “reflective and contemplative in nature,” “harmonize with its natural surroundings,” “contain the names of all who died or remain missing” and “make no political statements about the war.” In creating her design, Maya Lin wanted the wall to reflect the people who would be standing in front of it so that the grieving could see mirrors of themselves in the panels, giving it an interactive characteristic. The two walls of the memorial are made from polished black granite from Bangalore, India, which are composed of 70 separate inscribed granite panels. The largest panels have 137 names and there are more than 60,000 names on the walls, in total.
As a result of the intense controversy surrounding the design of the memorial in addition to some powerful members of Congress rallying to stop the Memorial’s construction, the building of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial initially resulted in re-opening the emotional wounds that it was intended to heal. However, retired Army General Michael Davison intervened in the disagreements and suggested that the commission add a statue to the Memorial’s site, and some of the political differences were abated.
Since the construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Jan Scruggs has become an author and national speaker and has made appearances on 60 Minutes, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, Good Morning America and Nightline. He has written articles on a broad spectrum of topics, which includes the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War. Scruggs has also written opinion articles for regional and national publications, as well as USA Today, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Washington Times. Together with Joel L. Swerdlow, he authored a book titled, To Heal a Nation: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which describes the story of his efforts and experience in creating and building the memorial.
Jan Scrugss’ dream, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, has become the most visited war memorial in our nation’s capital. It embodies grief, loss, and closure for the tragic deaths that were a result of the Vietnam War. It’s a symbol of our nation’s resilience and unity, which has become known as “The Wall That Heals,” “A Shrine of Reconciliation,” “The Healing Stone,” or simply “The Wall.” His dream and contribution to American veterans has brought honor, healing and remembrance to the American people.