Vietnam Veteran Jan Scruggs can rightly be called the father of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington DC. His story is the stuff of legends because he overcame so much to make the Wall a reality. Jan Scruggs was born in Bowie, Maryland in 1950. He grew up in modest circumstances and upon his graduation from Bowie High School in 1968 he joined the Army more to get away from home rather than from any big patriotic motivations.
He served honorably two years in Vietnam with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. One terrible incident that occurred in his unit where twelve members of his unit were killed in an accidental explosion of three mortar rounds has haunted him ever since. That incident and others like it caused him to suffer symptoms of what would later be known as PTSD.
When he came home he took a year off to roam the nation on a motorcycle as he dealt with his memories. Scruggs came home, enrolled in the American University and eventually earned a masters degree in psychology where he specialized researching posttraumatic stress disorder. He got married, took a job with the Department of Labor and became a renowned expert in the treatment of PTSD. It looked like he was set for life as a government employee.
That all changed one night when he and his wife went to see the movie The Deer Hunter. The intensity of the movie caused Scruggs to have flashbacks later that night as he remembered the accident that took the lives of his friends in Vietnam. As the new day dawned an idea of a memorial with the names of American service members who had died in the Vietnam War flashed into his mind. His wife thought the idea was crazy but Scruggs persisted with the idea and brought it up at the next meeting of his local Vietnam Veterans of America chapter.
He had proposed an obelisk 30 feet high, erected without government funds, with the names of the dead inscribed on it. The reaction of the chapter was generally negative actually his idea was strongly opposed by the members. Some felt the idea naive, while others argued it would distract the organization from winning better benefits for veterans. Apparently the people at the meeting did not realize Jan Scruggs was on a mission and nothing was going to deter him.
With the help of another Vietnam Veteran, attorney Bob Doubek, he set up a foundation to get the job done. Scruggs announced the formation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) on May 28, 1979. He was so devoted to his mission he quit his secure government job to devote all his time to the memorial effort.
Initially his mission was met with contempt, disdain, laughter and mockery. After two months of hard word, Scruggs had raised just $144.50. The idea was even ridiculed by Roger Mudd on the CBS Evening News. Adding insult to injury, Mudd’s brief report was used as material by late-night comedians. The Lord works in strange ways and it turns out that Mudd’s mention turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The publicity from the CBS mention raised the VVMF’s profile, and soon Scruggs was raising thousands of dollars (most of the donations in the $5 and $10 range).
After a mammoth and determined effort accomplished by Scruggs on November 13, 1982 the Vietnam Memorial Wall was unveiled. Jan Scruggs is a true American hero.
Discover more about his accomplishment in his book To Heal a Nation: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.