Architectural Feature: Vietnam Veterans Memorial

2020 Architecture + Community Award Winner
For newer buildings or sites completed within the last 50 years
that have made our community stronger.

The purpose of the David Westphall Veterans Foundation is to honor America’s veterans and members of its military forces by memorializing the sacrifices they have made and by recognizing the sense of duty and the courage they have displayed as they answered their country’s call to arms.

This purpose is achieved primarily by supporting the mission of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Angel Fire, New Mexico. Supporting NM Veterans Services in the operation of the Memorial helps fulfill the Foundation’s purpose by providing a memorial to veterans and a Visitors Center that serve as a place for reunion, reflection, healing, and sharing of experiences; for educational displays; for Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies; and as a venue for other patriotic events.

The Memorial was originally known as the Vietnam Veterans Peace and Brotherhood Chapel and had its origins in a battle near Con Thien, South Vietnam in which 16 other Marines lost their lives. Among the men, was David Westphall, son of Victor and Jeanne Westphall. Thanks to their vision and determination the memorial exists today to honor not only these Marines, but all members of America’s armed forces.

“When sons or daughters die in battle, parents are confronted with the choice of what they will do to honor the courage and sacrifice of that son or daughter. Following the death of our son, Victor David Westphall, on May 22, 1968, in Vietnam, we decided to build an enduring symbol of the tragedy and futility of war.”  Dr. Victor Westphall

Following the death of their son, U.S. Marine Corps First Lieutenant Victor David Westphall III, Jeanne and Dr. Victor Westphall began construction of the Vietnam Veterans Peace and Brotherhood Chapel to honor the memory of their son and the men that died with him near Con Thien, South Vietnam on May 22, 1968.

David’s mother, Jeanne Westphall, suggested that the money from David’s life insurance policies be used to create the “Vietnam Veterans Peace and Brotherhood Chapel.” She and David’s father, Dr. Victor Westphall dedicated the rest of their lives to seeing this vision become a reality.

The Chapel was dedicated on May 22, 1971, the 3rd anniversary of the death of 1st Lt. David Westphall. It was the first major memorial created to honor the veterans of the Vietnam War, and inspired the establishment of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., which was completed over ten years later, in 1982.

The Memorial is unique not just because it was the first effort on a national scale to memorialize Vietnam veterans. Among it other distinctions, it was the first Vietnam memorial to show not just the names of deceased Vietnam veterans but also to display pictures of those dead veterans in cases where the family had supplied a picture for display. Another major distinction for the Memorial is that for most of its history it has included a unique visitors center that incorporates displays and photographs that have been an invaluable supplement to the Chapel. The underground visitor center was begun in 1985 and completed in 1986. It is underground so as not to distract from the magnificent architectural lines of the Chapel. The visitor center has served as a valuable place where veterans can share their experiences and memories with fellow veterans and with family members. It has a truly valuable power to heal and to educate.

The original design of the visitor center was very successful but a few years ago it was decided after 20-years the interior of the building needed to be updated and reconfigured. Accordingly, New Mexico State Parks increased the size of the building from 6,000 square feet to 8,000 square feet. The new design provided additional valuable archive space, work space, and storage space. In addition to rest rooms and office space, the major features of the new visitor center are a video room, display rooms for themed memorabilia and informational panels, a computer room and library, a conference room and space for the Foundation’s gift shop. The visitor center continues to be a valuable supplement to the Chapel and Memorial grounds. Together, they provide a unique place for gaining insight into the Vietnam War and a valuable resource for healing of veterans and families.

Management of the Memorial was transferred from the NM State Parks to NM Department of Veterans Services as of July 1, 2017, and the Memorial is now operated as simply the “Vietnam Veterans Memorial”.

Today, the Memorial is home to the Chapel, the Visitors Center, an authentic Huey helicopter which saw action in Vietnam during the war, the Veterans Memorial Walkway, a Gift Shop, Memorial Gardens, an amphitheater, as well as the gravesites of Jeanne and Victor Westphall. The Memorial welcomes over 45,000 visitors annually.

Information submitted by award nominator, complied from various sources

LEARN MORE:

New Mexico Guide to New Mexico Architecture: Vietnam Veteran Memorial 

Video: On this Hollowed Ground – Vietnam Memorial Born From Tragedy

New Book: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire – War, Remembrance, and an American Tragedy

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