Names on a Memorial: Oklahoma City

(This posting was originally intended for publication during the 12th anniversary week of the Oklahoma City bombing. That week also saw Yom HaShoa [Holocaust Martyrs’ Remembrance Day] and the anniversaries of the Columbine High School massacre and the Branch Davidian fire. Next year, this same week will be the first anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech. This year, at the end of the week, I found renewal at a concert for the 38th Earth Day.

My posting therefore acknowledges another memorial, one without names, The Man with Two Hats, which honors the Canadian role in the liberation of the Netherlands during World War Two. Henk Visch’s statue of a man with arms upraised, holding a hat in each hand, is located in both Ottawa and Apeldoorn and was first dedicated in the Netherlands on May 2, 2000.

At the Ottawa dedication on May 11, 2002, the Canadian Minister of Veterans Affairs, Dr. Rey D. Pagtakhan, a Philippine immigrant, commented that these statues would demonstrate “the true test of friendship — of one country to another.” Every year since liberation, Holland shows its gratitude with a gift to Canada of 10,000 tulip bulbs.)

The Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, yielded to pressure from the 9/11 families and announced a new arrangement of names for the World Trade Center Memorial. Random is out and affiliation is in. Almost. All names are to be listed with others in their affiliation. While rescue workers’ unit affiliations will be fully expressed, corporate affiliations will not. Even American Airlines and United Airlines are excluded. Only flight numbers will be on the Memorial. Not surprisingly, the families remain unsatisfied. They want ages, floor numbers and corporate names.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial, designed by Hans and Torrey Butzer with Sven Berg, symbolically achieves all of that. The names of those who died on April 19, 1995 are engraved onto chairs sitting in the footprint of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The arrangement is geographic, with nine rows of chairs symbolizing the nine story building. Names are located on the floor they were on when they died, divided by agency, left to right, replicating the location of offices in the building. Names of employees and visitors are alphabetical within agency.

Five people died outside the Murrah Building. In alphabetical order, they are listed singly in a vertical line of chairs at the end of every other floor. The name on the first floor is Rebecca Anderson, a rescuer. Then one name from the Water Resources Building, two names from the Athenian Building and another from Water Resources.

Abandoning the geographic arrangement, alphabetical order for the non-Murrah names separates the two Water Resources employees. But if those names were arranged by building, where would that leave Rebecca Anderson? She didn’t have a building. She walked into the ruin and died when part of the Murrah Building fell on her. In this case, selecting alphabetical order puts the rescuer in the first position.

A solution for the non-Murrah names would be to organize them by building, with the person not associated with a building at first or last. Rebecca died entering the ruin where the first floor had been. So placing her name first makes sense. This fulfils the geographic theme of the arrangement, keeps the names in each of the exterior buildings together, and still places the rescuer in the honored position on the first floor.

The designers made another organizational decision that is somewhat bizarre. Four married couples died at the Social Services Administration (SSA) on the first floor. Each couple followed the tradition of sharing the same last name. For them, alphabetical order was ignored to place the husband’s name first. Research indicates the purpose was to keep the tradition implied by “husband and wife” or “Mr. and Mrs.” The alphabet has a tradition too, so it seems an odd choice to make in the first year of the 21st Century, when the Memorial was dedicated.

If I were to change alphabetical order, I would place three children with their grandparents. Peachlyn Bradley, three years old, and her brother Gabreon Bruce, three months old, died at the SSA with their grandmother Cheryl Hammon. The accident of alphabetical order places Peachlyn and Gabreon together, but seven chairs separate them from Cheryl. LaRue and Luther Treaner died with their four year old granddaughter Ashley Eckles. They are now separated by 21 chairs.

Since the designers were open to changing the alphabet, each trio could have remained together, Cheryl surrounded by her grandchildren and Ashley by her grandparents. Theirs were the two families that lost three people. Keeping these loved ones together on the Memorial would have been a small, but perhaps meaningful gift.

For the World Trade Center (WTC), adding floor numbers to the names would help demonstrate that the highest numbers of deaths occurred above the point of impact in both buildings. The Oklahoma City Memorial geographically shows the location of the greatest number of deaths by arranging the names into a concentration of chairs, with more chairs in the middle and fewer chairs toward the right and left edges.

The bomb exploded directly under the cribs in America’s Kids Child Development Center on the second floor. The most remembered image of that day is a fireman carrying the limp body of a baby. This bombing killed a lot of babies. The Memorial acknowledges their deaths by giving children smaller chairs.

It’s an elegant arrangement, with just a couple of misses. Using only names and chairs, the designers showed affiliation, age, level of destruction, and location of death by floor, office and exterior to the Murrah Building.

They did one more thing. The Memorial’s Survival Wall lists the names of more than 800 who experienced and survived the blast. They did not die, but they certainly had a life-changing experience. Offering them a part of the Memorial honors their suffering, gives them a place for contemplation, and helps visitors understand the enormity of the crime.

Survivors’ names are alphabetized within the buildings, which are also in alphabetical order. The original plan was to arrange the building names geographically, but it was felt that the primary target needed to be first.  Alphabetical order places the Alfred P. Murrah Building at the front of the list. (Linenthal, 2001)

I wish the World Trade Center Memorial would consider honoring the survivors of 9/11. I am not suggesting the names of everyone in the WTC on September 11, 2001 be listed. That is probably impossible to know. However, the names of companies with offices in the WTC could be engraved onto the Memorial, giving thousands of people with horrific experiences a place of solace and a place for their own memories. For reasons that have not been explained, corporate names are disallowed and the World Trade Center Memorial continues to miss the opportunity to fully serve its community of 9/11 survivors and families.

(I am grateful to Brad Robison, Director of the Terrorism Information Center at the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City. I contacted Brad during the anniversary week and appreciate his taking the time to answer my questions.)

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Names on a Memorial: Jessie C. Alba

(Today’s post honors Charlotte Winters, the last female U.S. veteran of World War I, who died last week at the age of 109.)

Reading the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (VVM) from left to right, like a book, Jessie C. Alba is the last name on the memorial. Because the names are listed in chronological order of casualty, visitors often think he was the last to die, but the VVM is not intended to be read like a book. 

It is intended to be experienced as a circle, with the names beginning at the center vertex and continuing east. The first half ends with Jessie, who died on May 25, 1968. Visitors then must
traverse the full length of the Wall to the far west panel for the next May 25th name, John H. Anderson. The names then proceed in chronological order, alphabetical within each date, back to the center vertex, completing the circle.

The first name for July 8, 1959, and therefore the first name at the top of Panel IE in the center vertex, is Dale R. Buis. He was watching a movie with his unit when a sniper attacked. The final names, from May 15, 1975, are on Panel 1W, one panel to the west of 1E. These eighteen died during the rescue of the S. S. Mayaguez and its crew. Richard Vandegeer is the last name on the Wall, not Jessie C. Alba.

Many first time visitors don’t get the circle metaphor, which I believe is the weakest element of the Wall. The entrance to the VVM is not in the center, but at the west or east for a linear, not a circular experience. Rather than a meaningful symbol, the circle seems like a quirk of this memorial. I’mnot complaining. Who knows what details allowed a 21 year old college student to win the VVM competition and to overcome the extreme controversy of her design? This was Maya Lin’s first major work. Some of her subsequent pieces also include circles. If she wants the beginning and the end in the middle, that’s her prerogative as the artist.

But it leaves the problem of Jessie C. Alba. Rather than the last to die, Jessie is the first name of those who died on May 25, 1968. A Texan, Sergeant Alba belonged to the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, Delta Company.  He died on the ground in Thua Thien-Hue at age 20. His is the last name on the last panel to the east, Panel 70E. The other 88 names for May 25th begin 140 panels to the west on Panel 70W.

One of the advantages of the chronology is the listing together of all names who died in a battle on a given day. I discussed this feature of the Wall in my 1/15/07 post, “Comrades in Vietnam and the Somme.” The arrangement design allows survivors of a battle to visit one area of the Wall, find their comrades and relive the experience. The Memorial to the Missing of the Somme achieves the same goal by listing regiments together. In that arrangement, the flow for three regiments is disrupted to promote Edwin Lutyens’ architecture (see my 2/4/07 post, A Path Among the Missing).

Rather than promoting architecture, I believe the Wall got caught up in its own rules — chronological order, alphabetical order within dates and no space to indicate a new date. But the VVM also has rules for keeping comrades together. Those who died of injuries are listed with the date of injury not the date of death. The missing are listed with the day they went missing. Because the first rules were slavishly followed, the intention of the second rules was lost for Jessie.

An information arrangement is built by rules – the rule of the alphabet, the rule of chronology, or something more complex. Information arrangers often get caught up in their own rules, forgetting they were created to serve a goal. When a rule becomes more important than the goal, it’s time to rethink the rules. Here’s another rule for the Wall. If one name is left hanging at the end of 70E, it can be moved to the top of 70W.

As it happens, Jessie was the only one in his unit to die on May 25, 1968. The nearest chronological deaths for Delta Company are Elroy E. Beier, May 5, 1968, on Panel 55E and Nickolas G. Garcia, April 22, 1969 on Panel 26W. Alba and Beier arrived in Vietnam on the same day, December 14, 1967. Garcia arrived on April 27, 1968, a month before Jessie died, eight days before Elroy died.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter that Jessie is all by himself on that farthest panel. His buddies probably don’t know anyone else who died on May 25, 1968. But now Jessie belongs to another group. He belongs to the group who died on that day and it does matter that he is separated by 140 panels from the other members of his group. It matters to his fiancé, Mary Ann Lopez, who wrote on the The Wall-USA, “In 1996 I got a chance to see the Vietnam wall with his name on it and since I got there at night time it was so overwhelming for me. The wall is so huge and very scary in a way. I finally found his name and how ironic it was that his name is the last one almost all by itself at the end.”

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Apr 2007

Names on a Memorial: Twelve Columns

(This post marks the fourth anniversary of the second Iraq war, which began this week in 2003.)

After months of researching the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval, I have found two books with photographs that clearly display the name structure on each pier face.  As mentioned in my post, Comrades in Vietnam and the Somme, regiments are listed by British Army order of precedence.  The photos each show a pier face with twelve columns divided into six sets of two columns.  At the top of each set is the regiment whose names appear in the columns below.

If the regiment’s names completely fill one set of two columns, they are read as usual from top to bottom, left column, then right column.  The names are divided by rank, in alphabetical order within the ranks.  If regimental casualties require more than two columns, the names continue from the bottom of the right column to the top left of the next set of columns.  If they do not fill these two columns, the names are divided equally between the left and right side, with the next regiment appearing below.  A diagram showing the arrangement design follows this post.

Courage Remembered, a book about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, has one of the photos.  The authors state that a point of interest when viewing a memorial is the “layout of the names” (p. 109).  Yet they do not describe the arrangement.  The other photo is in The Immortal Heritage, by Fabian Ware, the Commission’s founder, who also does not discuss the arrangement.  The Memorial to the Missing of the Somme is a 214 page book devoted to this one memorial.  Its author Gavin Stamp does not even mention that the names are listed by regiment in order of precedence, let alone describe the complex organizational structure on the piers, although he does provide minute details about Edwin Lutyens’ architecture.

Can you imagine requiring four months of research to discover that the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are in order of casualty?  There the name arrangement is a primary descriptive feature.  Maya Lin put the names first and her design became one of the world’s most admired memorials.

Lutyen’s architecture, with its interweaving arches, is certainly beautiful, but so is the complex and elegant name structure.  The purpose of the Somme Memorial is to honor Commonwealth soldiers whose bodies were never found.  Architecture overwhelms its own mission when we admire the picture frame and not the picture.

A1 A28 A59 A80 B17 B21 E13 E44 E76 E88 G1 G26
LT A29 A60 A81 B18 B22 E14 E45 E77 E89 G2 G27
A2 A30 A61 A82 B19 B23 E15 E46 E78 E90 SGT M G28
A3 A31 A62 A83 B20 B24 E16 E47 E79 E91 G3 G29
A4 A32 A63 A84 REGIMENT C E17 E48 E80 E92 SGT G30
A5 A33 A64 A85 LT PVT E18 E49 E81 E93 G4 G31
2ND LT A34 A65 A86 C1 C10 E19 E50 E82 E94 CPL G32
A6 A35 A66 A87 CPL C11 E20 E51 E83 E95 G5 G33
A7 A36 A67 A88 C2 C12 E21 E52 E84 E96 G6 G34
A8 A37 A68 A89 C3 C13 E22 E53 E85 E97 G7 G35
SGT M A38 A69 A90 C4 C14 CPL E54 E86 E98 G8 G36
A9 A39 A70 A91 PVT C15 E23 E55 E87 E99 G9 G37
A10 A40 A71 A92 C5 C16 E24 E56 REGIMENT F G10 G38
A11 A41 A72 A93 C6 C17 E25 E57 SGT M PVT G11 G39
SGT A42 A73 A94 C7 C18 E26 E58 F1 F18 G12 G40
A12 A43 A74 A95 C8 C19 E27 E59 F2 F19 G13 G41
A13 A44 A75 A96 C9 C20 E28 E60 F3 F20 G14 G42
A14 A45 A76 A97 REGIMENT D E29 E61 F4 F21 G15 G43
A15 L CPL A77 A98 PVT PVT E30 E62 F5 F22 G16 G44
L SGT A46 A78 A99 D1 D5 E31 E63 L CPL F23 G17 G45
A16 A47 A79 A100 D2 D6 E32 PVT F6 F24 G18 G46
A17 A48 REGIMENT B D3 D7 E33 E64 F7 F25 G19 G47
A18 A49 LT CPL D4 D8 E34 E65 F8 F26 G20 G48
A19 A50 B1 B8 REGIMENT E E35 E66 F9 F27 G21 G49
CPL A51 B2 B9 CAPT SGT E36 E67 F10 F28 G22 G50
A20 A52 2ND LT B10 E1 E6 E37 E68 F11 F29 G23 G51
A21 A53 B3 B11 LT E7 E38 E69 CPL F30 G24 G52
A22 A54 SGT M B12 E2 L SGT L CPL E70 F12 F31 G25 G53
A23 A55 B4 B13 2ND LT E8 E39 E71 F13 F32 REGIMENT H
A24 A56 SGT B14 E3 E9 E40 E72 F14 F33 CAPT LT
A25 A57 B5 B15 E4 E10 E41 E73 F15 F34 H1 H3
A26 PVT B6 PVT SGT M E11 E42 E74 F16 F35 LT SGT M
A27 A58 B7 B16 E5 E12 E43 E75 F17 F36 H2 H4

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Mar 2007

Names on a Memorial: Honor for the Individual

Britain started planning memorials before World War I ended.  The Thiepval memorial’s designer, Edwin Lutyens visited the Somme during the battle, which lasted for several months after the massacre on the first day.  His visit was sponsored by the newly established Imperial War Graves Commission under the direction of Fabian Ware.  It was Ware who insisted that casualties be named individually, either in a separate grave or on memorials for the missing.

Prior to World War I, soldiers were not usually memorialized individually.  There are several theories about why this changed.  One is the improved status of soldiers.  The men at the Somme were volunteers.  They were not mercenaries nor had they been bashed over the head in a tavern and dragged into the army.  The war and their motives for fighting in it were considered honorable (Mosse, 1990).

Entire British towns drummed up regiments only to see a generation lost on the battlefield.  These towns all built memorials.  There are even memorials to men who lived on single streets (Boorman, 1988).  This level of individualized honor may have helped the British absorb the loss and share the sorrow (Dyer, 1994).

In Monument Builders, Edwin Heathcote articulates one more reason – guilt.  He calls the war a pointless endeavor.  This applies especially to the Battle of the Somme.  Young inexperienced soldiers followed their leaders into a massacre.  The British ultimately won the war, but perhaps more troops would have returned home to their families if the Battle of the Somme had not been so poorly executed.

When it was all over, the British weren’t quite ready to blame the generals.  They even erected monuments to General Haig.  It’s hard to tell a nation that their fathers, sons, husbands, and brothers died for inept leadership.  We all want to believe sacrifice is warranted.  So they put the names of the dead and missing on cemeteries and memorials in foreign battlefields and they put the names of local heroes on monuments throughout the towns of Britain.

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Feb 2007

Names on a Memorial: Follow the Leader

World War I erupted because Germany, which had invaded France in 1870 for the Franco-Prussian War, wanted to do it again.  The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, and his wife, provided the perfect excuse.  When Germany started getting belligerent, Russia made obvious moves toward a preemptive strike.  On August 1, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia.  On August 3, they invaded Belgium, heading for France.  Britain declared war on Germany and Austria, and started recruiting. One of the big draws was the “Pals” battalions.  Soldiers who signed up together got to fight together.  Units based on geography guaranteed that many towns lost a generation of young men.

At the Somme on the Western Front, both sides burrowed into an elaborate system of trenches with a no man’s land in between.  Britain’s generals, Sir Douglas Haig and Sir Henry Rawlinson, planned a surge to divert German attention from Verdun.  They called it the “The Big Push” and set it on July 1, 1916 at 7:30am, giving Germans full light for their aim.  Announced in advance with poorly timed explosions and the cessation of a week long bombardment, “The Big Push” found Germans in full battle preparation as inexperienced British troops marched into the shooting gallery.  The first half hour claimed 2000.  At the end of the day, 21,000 Britons were dead or missing, and 35,000 wounded (Stamp, 2006).

Then both sides settled back into their trenches and continued fighting until winter arrived four months later, with a loss of 300,000 on all sides (Gilbert, 2006).  So many died, it was impossible to identify individual corpses due to massive wounds, decomposition, or the lack of anyone left alive to recognize bodies.  Ninety years later, skeletons are still found.  Seven German soldiers were uncovered during construction of the Thiepval Visitor’s Center, which opened in 2004 (Stamp, 2006).

Despite its huge losses, Britain was declared winner of the campaign.  The Battle of the Somme did divert German attention from Verdun, and with American help, France and Britain won the war.  Everyone went home and built monuments and rested up.

Twenty years later the next round started when German soldiers followed a corporal, who had been wounded at the Somme, into Czechoslovakia and new levels of efficient brutality.

(The primary resource for this post is The Somme Then and Now: A Visual History, by Duncan Youel and David Edgell, 2006.)

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Feb 2007

Names on a Memorial: A Path Among the Missing

(These essays in the “Names on a Memorial” series are sometimes published on significant days of mourning.  The previous post, Comrades in Vietnam and the Somme, was on Martin Luther King’s birthday.  February 4 is the birthday of my grandmother Margaret Hardeman Applegate.  Her husband and my grandfather, Julian Eugene Applegate, served with the U.S. Marines in WWI at Belleau Wood in France.  Severely injured on the first day of battle, he spent the rest of the war in a Parisian hospital.  My grandmother met him after he came home.)

The names on the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in Thiepval are arranged on 16 piers in British Army Order of Precedence.  The path among the piers emphasizes Edwin Lutyens’ magnificent architecture and the inspirational view, along a trail of adjacent panels that generally keeps regiment names in proximity.  If the names in a regiment encompass two panels, most visitors need only turn a corner or cross an aisle. Thiepval memorializes 163 units; five require three panels to list their missing.

A map of the Memorial shows 16 piers in four rows of four, with two rows to the south, two to the north, and a wide middle aisle with east and west steps leading to the central Stone of Remembrance.  The Stone, also designed by Lutyens, is placed in all larger military cemeteries of the British Commonwealth.  It looks like an altar and Lutyens wanted to call it that, but his friend James M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan and Wendy, convinced him that Presbyterians would prefer the word “Stone” (Stamp, 2006, p. 78).

The entrance to the Memorial is on the east.  The west side features a terrace and a sunset view of the cemetery.  The base is approximately 8 feet high, with the panels above at about twice that.  The exterior panels on the east and west are viewed from the ground or the terrace, so the highest names are about 24 feet above where the visitor stands.  There are no names on the exterior north and south panels.  In the interior, you can stand next to the panels and touch the lower names, but many names are too high to reach.

Order of precedence creates a path of names within the Memorial.  The piers and faces in path order are listed after this post.  Using the map, you can easily follow the trail.  It begins at the south side of the front exterior (1A, 8A).  Visitors enter the Memorial and walk up to the Stone of Remembrance and down to the west.  Cross the main aisle, walk up to the Stone of Remembrance again and down to the east.  Exit the Memorial to view the names at the north side of the exterior front (9A, 16A).  To get to the next panel (8C), visitors must return to the entrance, crossing one pier and the central aisle and again climbing the first flight of stairs.  The interior panels are fully contiguous, leading ultimately to a panel near the front (9C).  For the final panels, visitors again walk up to the Stone of Remembrance and down to the west.  Exit the Memorial onto the terrace, cross one pier to the north and then walk south along the terrace with the four final panels (13C, 12C, 5C, 4C) to the east and the cemetery view to the west.

This path of names demonstrates decisions of arrangement design.  Assuming that Lutyens’s architecture was non-negotiable, the Thiepval arrangement serves three goals:  (1) the path should follow order of precedence, (2) the path should keep regiment names together on contiguous panels, and (3) the path should enhance the architecture.  The design of 16 piers only allows two of these goals to be fully met.  Order of precedence was the priority, so a decision was made between keeping regiment names together or enhancing the architecture.

The designers of the path chose to enhance the architecture.  The path begins at the front of the Memorial, includes three walks alongside the Stone of Remembrance, twice exits the Memorial, and ends at the west terrace with a sunset view of the cemetery.  In making that decision, the path designers disrupted the names of two regiments.

The Royal Fusiliers of the City of London Regiment are one of the five units with names on three faces of the Memorial piers (9A, 16A, 8C).  Their names begin with the second walk along the front exterior of the Memorial.  Then visitors must cross one pier, re-enter the Memorial, cross the central aisle and climb the first flight of stairs to get to the third panel.  Near the end, the names of the London Scottish 14th Battalion London Regiment (9C, 13C) are disrupted by a third walk along the Stone of Remembrance, completely traversing the Memorial from front to back and arriving at the terrace cemetery view.

As an expert in information arrangement, I, of course, believe that keeping the names contiguous is far more important than admiring magnificent architecture, but a primary skill of arrangement is working within parameters to meet the collection’s goals.  The goal of the Thiepval Memorial is to mourn the dead and inspire the living.

Lutyens’ WWI architecture eloquently serves this goal.  His Cenotaph at Whitehall in London is inscribed with the years 1914 and 1919 and a simple phrase selected by Rudyard Kipling, “The Glorious Dead.”  At Thiepval, the massive size, the Stone of Remembrance, and the stirring view all honor sacrifice in war.  By promoting an emotional architectural experience, the path of names contributes to this theme, perhaps inspiring future generations to fight again.  And they did fight again.  The Cenotaph was later inscribed with the dates 1939 and 1945.

Path of Names at the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, Thiepval (See map:

1A, 8A     South front exterior of the Memorial

8D, 7D, 6D, 5D     Enter the Memorial, then up the stairs on the south side of the Stone of Remembrance and down the stairs to the west.

12B     Cross the central aisle on the west side

11B, 10B, 9B     Up stairs on the north side of the Stone and down to the east

9A, 16A     Exit to the north front exterior

8C     Cross one pier to the south, re-enter the Memorial, continue south across the central aisle, climbing the first flight of stairs

8B, 1D, 1C, 2A, 2D, 2C, 3A, 3D, 3C, 4A, 4D, 5B, 5A, 6C, 6B, 6A, 7C, 7B, 7A     Interior of south piers

10A     Cross the center aisle to the north

10D, 10C, 11A, 11D, 11C, 12A, 12D, 13B, 13A, 14C, 14B, 14A, 15C, 15B, 15A, 16C, 16B, 9D, 9C     Interior of north piers

13C     Up the stairs on the north side of the Stone, then down to the west, exit onto the terrace, and cross one pier to the north.

12C, 5C, 4C     Walk south along the terrace overlooking the cemetery to the west

(I am grateful to Peter Francis, Media & PR Manager of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, for providing the map and the list of regimental locations on the Memorial.)

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Feb 2007

Names on a Memorial: Comrades in Vietnam and the Somme

While writing her proposal essay for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (VVM) competition, Maya Lin was influenced by the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in Thiepval, France.  Designed by architect Edwin Lutyens, this WWI memorial honors 72,000 Britons, Indians and South Africans who went missing from the Somme battlefield, primarily during five months in 1916.  The VVM honors 58,000 dead and missing during 20 years from 1956 to 1975. Lin’s essay emphasizes placement of the VVM within the context of the National Mall.  I believe she was inspired by Thiepval’s site on a hill overlooking a cemetery.  Lutyen’s memorial magnificently overwhelms the French countryside.  While the VVM is overwhelming only when you get close to it, Lin’s work tends to be site specific, so it is natural that she would emphasize placement in her essay.

Lutyens’ Thiepval design interweaves six arches on a square of sixteen piers, spanning the length and width of the building.  The arches increase in size as they decrease in number.  Two north-south arches are intersected by two taller east-west arches, intersected by one even larger north-south arch, and finally intersected by the tallest east-west arch rising almost to the height of the edifice.

The names of the missing are engraved on the 16 piers.  They are organized by British Army Order of Precedence, which determines how regiments appear on the parade ground.  Within each regiment, names are listed by rank and within each rank, in alphabetical order.  Like the VVM, the Thiepval memorial requires an index to locate individual names.

Also like the VVM, the arrangement places comrades close to each other.  Prior to Vietnam, military personnel were often mustered into local regiments and sent off to war. In WWI, British towns sacrificed a generation of young men into fighting squads with names like Kensington Battalion and Cheshire Regiment.  Organizing the missing of the Somme by unit not only combines those who fought together, but also those who lived together in their civilian towns.  Military survivors remember comrades.  Townspeople remember neighbors.

In traditional wars, like WWI, military personnel mustered together and fought together throughout the entire conflict.  Survivors returned home at the same time and, if they won, they had a parade.  Vietnam changed that.  Individuals were sent at different times, stayed for a few years and returned alone.  No parade and no comradeship within the entire regiment.  Vietnam veterans remember those who served at the same time, not those who served in their unit several years before they arrived.  For Vietnam veterans, chronology, not unit, gathers comrades together.

(My thanks to Peter Francis, Media & PR Manager of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, for his invaluable help in my research on the Thiepval memorial.)

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Names on a Memorial: Vietnam’s Chronology

The selection committee for the World Trade Center Memorial included Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (VVM) in Washington, DC.  Lin championed Michael Arad’s design, but her own use of chronological order is closer to the affiliation of the Families Proposal than to Arad’s random structure.  Her powerful VVM arrangement employs chronology to display affiliation.

The VVM lists names of the dead and missing in order of casualty.  People who died together are listed together.  Surviving veterans of a battle can stand in front of their unit’s dead, reading the names of their buddies and watching their own reflections in the polished black marble.  They find their time in the war, see the names of their friends, and reflect on their memories.

The rules of the VVM chronology reinforce arrangement by affiliation.  The listing is by date of casualty not by date of death.  So a person who died later of wounds received in a battle is listed with others who died in that battle.  The missing are listed by the date they went missing, so they would also be located with the casualties of the battle.

Vietnam veterans need only find one name in the index, walk to the appropriate panel, and see the names of all their fallen comrades from one day of fighting.  They can remember details about each person and about the day and remember others who survived.  They don’t have to expend energy and time remembering individual names and finding them separately in alphabetical order.  The group remains together in memory and on the Memorial.

For visitors who are not veterans, another detail reinforces affinity.  Each day’s casualties are alphabetized.  This simple arrangement technique allows all visitors to recognize the beginning and ending of the deaths for one day.  You don’t have to be a surviving veteran to stand with the dead on a battlefield.  You just have to know your alphabet.

To walk the length of the VVM chronology is to experience the war.  Certainly there are architectural details that amplify the Memorial’s intensity.  The growing height of the panels, for example, emphasizes the magnitude of death.  But it is the chronology that gives the Memorial its strength.  A list of alphabetized names, whatever the architecture, would just be a list.

Maya Lin’s chronology provides a context for the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  It encourages surviving veterans to meditate on their past in a way not possible with a less insightful arrangement.  It shows visitors the history of the war and the events on a single day of fighting.  In a hundred years, when the soldiers and the protestors have all died, it will continue to represent not the glory of war or even the futility of war, but simply the experience of war.

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Nov 2006

Names on a Memorial: Families’ Affiliation

For Michael Arad, architect of the World Trade Center Memorial, random represents “the haphazard brutality of the attacks.”  But surviving families understand the consequences of information arrangement.  Outraged by the proposed random display of victims’ names and uninspired by alphabetical order, they circulated a proposal among survivors promoting arrangement by affiliation.  These surviving families believe the 9/11 attacks and deaths were anything but haphazard.

Terrorists targeted symbols of American commerce, the tallest buildings in a sea of skyscrapers, offices previously attacked.  Most victims died at work, many with coworkers in spaces they occupied together five days a week.  Investment company Cantor Fitzgerald had the greatest number of deaths.  Their corporate culture encouraged nepotism. Executives hired relatives and childhood schoolmates.  They were each others’ best friends. For these families, the loss of entire communities was not haphazard.

The family associations used their extensive fund raising capabilities to vote against random. They did not contribute substantially to the WTC Memorial, which has not raised enough money for construction.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a supporter of random arrangement, recently assumed leadership of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, with the primary function of fundraising.  On the topic of name arrangement, he now says, “We’ll just have to see.” (NYT, 10/11/06)

The families’ proposal divides the names into three areas:  Tower One, Tower Two, and an alternate area.  In each Tower, names are categorized by affiliation and then alphabetized. Names include age and floor number.  The alternate area lists first responders, the two airplanes, and those not associated with a Tower.  Uniformed rescue workers are arranged by unit and rank.  Names from the airplanes are in alphabetical order within each flight. Crew members’ names include rank.   Those not affiliated, or whose families decline an affiliated listing, are also in the alternate area.

This arrangement places the names into a classified index, with primary entry by affiliatio and a miscellaneous section for “Unknown” and “Decline to State.”  It still doesn’t tell us anything about the day of 9/11 or the experiences of the victims.  It just says they went to work or they got on an airplane and they died.

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Nov 2006

Names on a Memorial: Findability and the Alphabet

The benefits of random are equality and insignificance.  Both attributes contributed to Michael Arad’s theme of “Reflecting Absence,” in his random display of victims’ names at the World Trade Center Memorial.  For Arad, random represented the “the haphazard brutality of the attacks.”  But random costs findability, making it difficult to locate one name among thousands.  Arad’s solution was an index, like the index at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

Even with an index, many family members and their organizations objected to the random arrangement.  For them, random symbolized desperate missing person fliers and spontaneous walls of memory.  Random recalled failed searches that for many did not even provide the remains of a body.  Arad probably did not consider the symbolism of findability.

His theme is absence not missing persons and, as an arrangement novice, he missed the shattering unintended consequence.

Of course, findability is easily solved by replacing random with alphabetical order, a solution immediately suggested when the controversy erupted.  Alphabetical order is almost a variation of random.  Every name is equal.  Placement has no meaning other than the accident of letters.  Of course, it is not haphazard, a primary focus of Arad’s theme, and would have decreased the impact of absence.  But at least you could find each name.  No need for an index.  The whole Memorial is an index.

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