‘This is their Mecca’: Md. Army veteran on his role in creating Vietnam Veterans Memorial

by John Gonzalez

Tue, May 23rd 2023, 4:27 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (7News) — Prince George’s County native and Army veteran Jan Scruggs grew up in Bowie, Maryland. At the age of 18, he joined the Army and almost immediately went to fight in Vietnam.

He says his parents divorced and they didn’t have a lot of money, he felt like it was his only option. It was a rocket-propelled grenade attack a year later that would cut his military life short.

The Purple Heart recipient would later spend more than three years convincing Congress and the American public to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

He didn’t stop until the more than 58,000 service members who died were honored properly.

“For Vietnam veterans, this is their Mecca, you know the Muslim faith goes to Mecca, Catholics go to Rome, Vietnam veterans go here,” said Scruggs.

After creating a memorial fund, raising millions, and receiving more than 1,400 design submissions, Scruggs took his idea to Congress, he did receive a lot of opposition.

“The opponent said look all the monuments in Washington are white, this one is black so you are making a political statement about the Vietnam War,” the retired infantryman tells 7News.

He suffered from PTSD, which motivated Scruggs to earn a master’s degree in psychology and is now recognized as an expert on post-traumatic stress disorder.

This D.C. landmark attracts more than five million people each year. The 73-year-old who now lives in Annapolis likes to come back not just for the impromptu history lesson for tourists but also to see the names of 12 of his friends, who died right before his eyes. He comes back at least once a week to the wall that he founded and created more than 40 years ago.

He likes to talk to different field trip groups, students and chaperones from around the world.

He also still gets emotional reading the cards and letters he picks up every time he visits. For Scruggs, creating the memorial helped his post-traumatic stress disorder. His wife was the first person he told that he wanted to create a memorial for all the lives lost in Vietnam, especially his friends.

“This is a place where you can have an emotional experience, maybe put to rest some of the demons that are in your soul from combat,” said Scruggs.

After months and months of architectural designs, and convincing Congress, it became a reality in 1982. Scruggs says it was a little bit of a fool’s mission initially. After fighting in Vietnam he came home to fight a different battle for three years.

He says he wanted black for it to be reflective and contemplated. He wanted granite so it can clean easily and last forever. After the largest-ever design competition for a memorial of this scale, it was Maya Lin, a Chinese American college student at Yale who won the competition and got national recognition.

Contact to schedule a speaking engagement or tour with Veteran Speaker Jan Scruggs today.

* Reprinted from WJLA ABC 7 News. By John Gonzalez. On Tue, May 23rd 2023, 4:27 AM EDT.

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Photo: May 2023 photo of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (7News)

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