Vietnam Memorial

Historical Background

Frank Ackerman, 1973. 7"H x 9"W x 11"D (sculpture), 3'9"H x 2'3"W x 1'2"D (pedestal). Court of Flags
On May 4, 1973, 3,000 people, including some of the first prisoners of war who returned home from Vietnam, gathered in the Court of Historic Flags to witness the dedication of a Vietnam memorial. What they saw unveiled that day was not a large traditional monument expressing military heroism or valor, but rather a solitary life-sized helmet, appearing to be the sole remnant of a soldier, resting atop a tombstone-like pedestal. Conveying a quiet sense of loss and abandonment, the memorial, according to its designer, Frank Ackerman, was a simple yet eloquent reminder of the war.

A month prior to the dedication, the late County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn asked Ackerman, who headed the County's Graphic Arts Department, to prepare a memorial in 30 days that would honor the 231,000 Los Angeles County residents who served in Vietnam. Ackerman proceeded to design the work, made a clay model based on a helmet he obtained from the County's Department of Veteran Affairs and cast it by the lost wax method within 10 days. Ackerman also incorporated the California granite pedestal into the design. Cut by a tombstone manufacturer, its roughly chiseled top appears to be ground on which the helmet lies. After the memorial was completed, the text of the plaque became a political issue between the liberal Hahn and conservative County Supervisor Peter Schabarum. Two weeks passed before they agreed on its text: "In proud recognition of the men and women of Los Angeles County who faithfully served with courage, dignity and honor 1961-1973."

Vandals stole the helmet in the 1980s, but a replacement was cast and installed nearly 10 years later. Unlike the original, which appeared to be covered with a camouflage net, the new helmet has a smooth shinny surface.

The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, April 1998.

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