By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Mar 27, 2008 6:37:27 EDT
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, one of the most visited sites in the nation’s capital since its opening in 1982, has gone virtual.
The memorial is now posted on the Internet with a searchable database of National Archives files that provides more than just the names of the 58,000 veterans whose names are etched in black marble on “the Wall,” located near the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall.
The “virtual wall,” with features that include allowing visitors to post photographs and comments, was produced by a for-profit company, Footnote.com, under an agreement with the National Archives, which keeps the military’s historical records and photographs and makes them available to researchers and other visitors at an archives facility in College Park, Md.
Justin Schroepfer, Footnote.com’s marketing director, said access to the virtual Vietnam Veterans Memorial and to linked historical records and photographs is free, but people will have to pay to use some features on the Web site.
Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States, said the Vietnam Memorial is one of the most visited sites not only in Washington but in the nation, and interest increases each year among people seeking to look at historical files of the war held by the National Archives. Putting the Vietnam memorial on the Internet, and providing ways to search by name, age, hometown, state, service, unit and other factors, makes the records available to even more people, Weinstein said.
James Hastings, the Archives’ director of access programs, said he is not troubled about having a for-profit company use government-owned records because the information is available for free to archives offices, which are scattered throughout the U.S.
Putting the information online “expands access by incalculable magnitude,” he said. For example, the Web site will soon include Vietnam War photographs in the Archives’ possession that include captions identifying who is in the photo, making it easier to locate a photo of a particular person that might have been almost impossible for a family to find on its own.
Schroepfer said the interactive feature allowing photographs and comments to be posted by visitors will be a big draw to the Web site. Comments will not be reviewed before they are posted, he said, but the Web site requires registration to post a comment, and other visitors can “flag” comments they think are inappropriate. In that sense, he said, the site “polices itself.”
Registering also gives visitors the opportunity to exchange comments, such as allowing families to contact someone who served with one of the service members whose name is on the Wall.