The first time I met him, he was wearing a loose, tan backpack slung over a grey suit.
Our firm had been hired to help tell the story of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Education Center at the Wall. All the interviews had been done over the telephone and by a committee, so by the time I had my first face-to-face meeting with Jan Scruggs, we were already friends.
I wasn’t prepared for the meeting.
I expected a fiery advocate, the man who railed against the system to bring closure to a gaping wound left from Vietnam by advocating for and bringing to life the memorial we know as the Vietnam Wall. I expected someone more like Eric Roberts, who portrayed Scruggs in the 1988 film “To Heal A Nation.“
Instead, I met this sincere, caring and deeply personal man whose life was spent helping a nation move past one of its darkest hours — one name at a time.
As Jan and I toured The Wall that day, he stopped several times to visit with mourners and tourists. One aged black woman was trying to sketch a name onto a piece of paper, Jan gently stepped into help, summoning a Parks Service attendant over with a fresh piece of paper and charcoal. The woman didn’t realize who she was talking with until Jan begin to explain details about the particular panel where the name resided, and brief stories of the men and women whose names surrounded her beloved. Tears came to her eyes. Jan hugged her.
And then as silently as we arrived in this woman’s life, we walked away. She grieved. And healed.
Listen to Jan tell the story of the Vietnam Wall in his own words in this NPR report.
And help support The Education Center at the Wall by visiting this site.