WASHINGTON - The Vietnam Veterans Memorial stands in tribute to the more than 58,000 American heroes who lost their lives serving their country. But the wall is more than just a memorial for many families. Since it was dedicated in 1982 it has become a place for families to visit and leave mementos of the loved ones who were lost.
Some families leave behind more than mementos. Some leave the cremated remains of veterans. Mike Litterst, with the National Park Service, says the department doesn't have the resources to handle this.
"We're not a cemetery or a mausoleum. We're simply not equipped to handle the long term storage of human remains," Litterst said. But with an aging population of Vietnam veterans and the 50th anniversary of the worst year of fighting, crews at the National Mall say there's been an increase in remains left. "In some ways it is doing disservice or disrespect to those men to have their remains left here," Litterst said.
A sign now sits by the walkway entering the site reading: "The scattering of human remains is prohibited anywhere on the National Mall, including at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Human remains and associated objects should not be left at the memorial and will not become part of the museum collection.” But that's upsetting some military families, who say these brave men and women have already sacrificed enough.
"It's the vets' right to basically have what they desire. I think they deserve it," says William Charlton, a Vietnam veteran.
Officials say ashes have been left at the wall since it was built, with the most recent incident just a few weeks ago. But it's clearly an emotional controversy, with families just wanting to pay final tribute to their fallen heroes.