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Vietnam Memorial Develops Thin Cracks : Veterans: The project's main fund-raiser starts a $1-million campaign to pay for unanticipated repairs. Who is at fault has yet to be determined.

February 07, 1990|DON SHANNON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a pair of polished granite walls that has become the capital's most visited monument, has developed hairline cracks and will require extensive future repairs, the project's principal fund-raiser said Tuesday.

Jan C. Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, said the organization has launched a direct-mail drive to raise about $1 million to finance the unanticipated repairs and other long-term maintenance needs.

Scruggs said that some of the cracks in the 8-year-old granite walls, which bear the names of 58,258 fatalities in the Southeast Asian conflict, could be the result of faulty construction or flawed materials.

He said the memorial fund is entering into legal arbitration proceedings to determine whether financial responsibility for the repairs should fall on the builder, the suppliers or the monument's sponsors.

The Gilbane Building Co., a Rhode Island firm with offices in Washington, was the principal contractor on the memorial. A spokesman for the company could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Scruggs, who served as a combat infantryman in Vietnam, led the fund-raising effort that raised $9 million to build the memorial on a two-acre site allotted by Congress near the Lincoln and Washington monuments. The memorial fund agreed to maintain it in perpetuity.

Until now, surplus money from the original drive had been sufficient to finance maintenance. But the discovery of the hairline cracks and other anticipated expenses made a bigger budget appear necessary, Scruggs said.

"We just decided a few months ago that looking at the long-term needs, we should have an endowment of about $1 million to provide enough income," Scruggs said. "We have already started a direct-mail appeal, and money is coming in."

The fund recently bought a supply of Bangalore granite from India to ensure that replacement panels match the original wall, he said. The replacement granite has been polished and placed in storage at Quantico Marine Base near Washington.

Gray in its natural state, the stone turns almost black when polished, making the gold-etched lettering appear to float on the surface of the wall.

Since the monument's 1982 dedication, 262 names have been added and many more corrected as new information about Vietnam casualties has emerged. Last year, the addition of 60 names to the walls cost $90,000, Scruggs said.

The memorial's designer, Maya Lin, said in an interview that she does not believe the flaws are serious. "I was only the designer," she said, "but I am certain the technical people who built it did their absolute best."

Now a practicing architect in New York, Lin was a 21-year-old architecture student at Yale University when she won the $20,000 first prize for her controversial design.

The starkly simple memorial is a wide, V-shaped excavation walled in granite. Visitors descend from the surface along sloping paths to the vertex, where the walls are 10 feet high and the names of the first and last fatalities of the war are engraved.

The memorial is situated atop filled land on what was once wetlands bordering the Potomac River. The adjacent Lincoln Memorial, completed in 1922, has suffered from settling problems, and a planned ground-floor museum there has never been opened because of dampness.

Besides the cracking, Scruggs said the Vietnam memorial also has experienced vandalism.

"I was down there today," he said, "and I actually did find a new scratch on panel 59 E (the 59th panel on the east wall) and what looked as if somebody had thrown some kind of liquid on Panel 25 E."

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