Commemorating the Vietnam War at the Honolulu Memorial

On Veterans Day 2012 the American Battle Monuments Commission dedicated two new pavilions at the Honolulu Memorial. Learn the story behind this historic project.

Video Transcript

NARRATOR: Located in an extinct volcano, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, commonly known as the Punch Bowel, is also home to the Honolulu Memorial. Dedicated in 1966, this memorial was established by the American Battle Monuments Commission as a way honor the American armed forces that fought in the Pacific during World War II and the Korean War. By the late 1970s, it had become apparent to some that the memorial was missing a war that had changed American history.

MAX CLELAND, ABMC SECRETARY: I will say that I was the first Vietnam veteran to head the VA. And when I got to Honolulu I saw an absent portion of our American history there. It was absent. The whole Vietnam War was absent from the memorial at the cemetery of the pacific in Honolulu.

NARRATOR: So in 1980 the names of the missing from the Vietnam War were added to the memorial after the urging of Max Cleland, a Vietnam veteran and director of the Department of Veterans Affairs at that time. But one key element representing the war still did not exist at the memorial.

TOM SOLE, ABMC CHIEF ENGINEER: The maps which are currently at the memorial in Honolulu were built in the early 1970s so it had been 40 years since they had been built.

NARRATOR: These maps, an integral part of the story, showed the major theaters and conflicts of those wars. But to complete the story of American forces in the Pacific, the American Battle Monuments Commission set out to add two new pavilions to the memorial to honor those that fought in the Vietnam War.

TOM SOLE, ABMC CHIEF ENGINEER: In reality, in this particular process there are several aspects to it. There are two big aspects. And that is architectural. We had to build the new pavilions that would house the battle maps because there was no longer any room in the existing memorial. While the concept was approved back in 2009. So we got the approval of basically the two pavilions that would stand out in front of the existing memorial.

NARRATOR: After the architectural elements had been approved by the Commission of Fine Arts, the American Battle Monuments Commission began to examine how they would tell the story of a conflict that lasted more than a decade.

JOHN BROWN, ABMC HISTORIAN: We figured we could tell the story with a minimum of two. And as fate would have it that was what we were able to get built into the design so two maps. Decided that one should be a theater map that would have the entirety of indo-china and that would be the best carrier for the navy and air force stories which essentially were theater-wide. And then we had another map that was south Vietnam proper and that map seemed to be the best carrier for the ground war and those units such as army and marines that fought it.

NARRATOR: Working closely with historians from all branches of the military, the American Battle Monuments Commission carefully identified the elements, and text that would best tell the story of the Vietnam War. And one quote, from a poet who lost his brother during World War I, seemed to best describe the intention of this project.

MAX CLELAND, AMBC SECRETARY: So Archibald Macleish the poet that he was wrote that poem Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak. And that great line “we leave you our deaths, give them their meaning.” Is much like Lincolns’ thoughts and Gettysburg where he said it’s up to us to give the meaning to these deaths. And that’s true. We as citizens give meaning to the death of those who have gone before us who have suffered in war.

NARRATOR: The text on the maps had to resonate with the images. And to ensure the images in the maps matched the look of the existing World War II and Korean War battle maps, ABMC sought out the original artist, Mary Jacobs.

MARY JACOBS, ARTIST: They hired me in 1968 and I think it was ‘68 and it took us two years to do it. So we finished it in ’71, 1971.

NARRATOR: Seizing on her knowledge from the original work, the American Battle Monuments Commission once again hired Mary to design the images within the map. And because she had spent time at the Honolulu Memorial, watching veterans see the maps for the first time, Mary brought a unique and personal perspective to the project.

MARY JACOBS, ARTIST: I’ll never forget. He pointed out and said “That’s exactly the way it was. That’s exactly the way it was.” And he was so enthusiastic, he was so happy to see that picture. And I thought you know, that taught me a lot.

NARRATOR: But translating a painting into a concrete mosaic map, is not a simple process. In an industrial park outside of Chicago, the Armbruster Company, a historic concrete business, took on the challenge of creating these news maps.

BOB ARMBRUSTER, BATTLE MAPS CONSTRUCTION COMPANY: The battle maps being made of this mosaic concrete use crushed glass for the pebble size and the sand size aggregates in the concrete mix. And it’s made up of dozens of different concretes mixes one for each shade of color to go together in one placement or cast of concrete in order to make this mural-like mosaic illustration. The original battle maps were done in four galleries. Here we have one gallery with two battle maps. The goal was to produce battle maps of the same style, the same materials, even similar colors. The artist wanted to maintain the colors. Working from that, that gave us the dimensions for the battle maps. They are 10 feet tall. Each map is 10 feet tall and about nine and a half feet wide. They’re made up of six individual panels to create a single map. So there’s three across the bottom and three across the top. Each panel is five feet tall and about three feet wide. Two inches thick. That’s a size that fits not only the original maps, but it’s an appropriate size for this type of pre-cast concrete. Each panels weighs 400 pounds. So each map weights almost 5000 pounds.

NARRATOR: On November 11, 2012 these large mosaic maps were dedicated at the Honolulu Memorial as a way to forever commemorate and honor those that fought in the Vietnam War. And nearly four decades after the war ended, the American Battle Monuments Commission is still working to tell this story.

MAX CLELAND, ABMC SECRETARY: This is the story of war. “We leave you our deaths, give them their meaning.” It’s for succeeding generations to give meaning to the deaths that went before them to flesh out what it means to be a citizen of the United States.