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Virtual Wall Allows Public to Reach Out to Vietnam Dead

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2002 – Each year, visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial here leave thousands of mementos at the base of the Wall. Since 1997, visitors to a non- profit Internet site can do the same virtually.

The Virtual Wall, at www.virtualwall.org, is run by volunteers whose only purpose is to provide an alternate way for people to remember those lost in Vietnam.

Nov. 13 is the 20th anniversary of the dedication of the actual Wall on the national Mall. Government officials and veterans groups are planning reunions and presentations at the Wall on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, and throughout that week to mark the occasion.

Visitors to the virtual site can also submit notes and photographs to be placed on memorial pages dedicated to individuals whose names are on the true Wall. Not all the Wall's names are memorialized on the Web site, but thousands are -- mostly sent in by family members and friends.

The site's founders and maintainers don't allow any commercial links in the memorials or on their page. "The founders and maintainers of The Virtual Wall have relatives or friends named on the Wall. Several of us have experience as National Park Service volunteers at the Wall, so we understand visitors' needs and emotions," the site states. "We wish The Virtual Wall to reflect the dignity and solemnity of the Wall."

Those wishing to build individual memorials have these limits: The site is free of commercial or political endorsements and the language is suitable for children to read.

People can submit photos to be added to their submitted text. "Photos on The Virtual Wall can help demonstrate the personality and memorialize the person behind each name on The Wall," the site says. "Photos may be of the person named on The Wall or family members, at any age."

The site's founders ask that people have a personal tie to the individual they are memorializing such as, "a relative, a friend, the relative of a friend, a man whose POW/MIA bracelet you wore, or some similar connection."

Site visitors can find the pages in several different ways. They can search by name, city and state, military service affiliation, location of the individual's name on the actual Wall, or military unit.

Visitors come across page after page of equally heartbreaking and uplifting stories. The site is also a good source to bring people together over a common loved one. Many people who post memorials include their e-mail addresses and solicit responses from others who knew their loved one.

The Virtual Wall is not officially affiliated with the National Park Service-run Vietnam Veterans Memorial. However, each year the site's managers submit a CD-ROM archive of all postings to the Park Service to be catalogued and stored with other items left at the actual Wall.

The Virtual Wall's founders called these archives and mementos "part of our history and culture."

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