The Case of the Wrong Way Bullets on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial’s Three Servicemen Statue
Infantry 351, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
The other day, Jim Knotts, President and CEO of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, ran across our video of Vietnam Veteran, Marine Dan Vaughn, talking about the flaw in the Three Servicemen statue above at one of our Veterans Breakfast Club events. Jim kindly passed along a letter by the sculptor Frederick Hart explaining why he positioned the bullets in the soldier’s bandolier facing the wrong way, up instead of down. I’ll be curious to hear what our veterans think of Hart’s explanation.
If you stand at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC–The Wall–and turn to the southwest, you see the haunting image of three uniformed fighting men emerging from a grove of trees and looking back at you and The Wall. It’s sculptor Frederick Hart’s Three Servicemen Statue, dedicated in 1984 an addendum to the memorial grounds. It’s powerful and moving. But it has a flaw: the soldier on the left carrying the M-60 machine gun on his shoulders has two bandoliers of ammunition facing the wrong way, up instead of down.
We’ve discussed this mistake several times at our Veterans Breakfast Club events. I’ve not met a soldier or Marine yet who says they carried ammunition with the pointy side up. The other day, we posted a short video from 2018 of Marine Dan Vaughn telling us about his conversation with a memorial guide about the upside-down bullets.
President and CEO of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Jim Knotts, happened to see the video and kindly sent me a copy of a letter that Frederick Hart wrote in 1993 to Robert Horton at the Department of Interior. Hart defends his choice by saying that service members of different branches and at different times used different equipment worn differently. Just as there was no one “Vietnam War-“-the war in I Corps was totally different from the one in the Delta, and the war in 1965 was different from the one in 1972–so too was there no one way a service member suited up for work.
Despite the artistic license taken by Hart with respect to the ammo, the realistic Three Servicemen Statue is a fitting complement to the unconventional and abstract design of The Wall, whose black granite panels carve a deep scar in the earth and reflect visitors’ faces behind the names of the dead. Indeed, the statue provided balance and served as a compromise of sorts for those who didn’t like the more daring design of The Wall.
If anyone who ever carried a bandolier of M-60 ammunition in the direction depicted in the statue, please let me know. Just don’t tell Dan Vaughn.