The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial and the Vietnam Era Museum & Educational Center are companion projects that complement one another.
The Memorial honors the sacrifices made by New Jersey residents who gave their lives while serving in Southeast Asia and, at the same time, pays tribute to all who have served.
The idea for the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial had its beginnings on Veterans Day, November 11,1982. A contingent of New Jersey veterans attending the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. realized the need for just such a memorial in the State of New Jersey. Working with state legislators, veterans and community groups, and individuals too numerous to list, they saw the process begin to take shape over the next 3 years.
On January 21, 1986, Governor Tom Kean signed into law the bill that created a 14 member New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Committee. The committee’s charter was to select a suitable location for the construction, conduct a competition for the design of a memorial honoring New Jersey’s veterans of the Vietnam conflict, determine methods of financing the construction, and to initiate fundraising. Included in the bill was a one-time grant of $25,000 to fund the design contest.
In the spring of 1986, the committee selected the 5.5-acre site on the grounds of the Garden State Arts Center in Holmdel, Monmouth County, from a list of 6 possible sites from across New Jersey. Dedication ceremonies were held at the site in the spring of 1987. A design contest was held from the spring of 1987 to the spring of 1988, drawing over 400 entries that were judged by a select panel of experts from the arts, historic, and Veterans communities in New Jersey.
On July 7, 1988, the design submitted by Hien Nguyen, a refugee who left South Vietnam thirteen years earlier, was unveiled. Hien’s design contains a 200-foot diameter open-air pavilion, inside of which are 366 black granite panels.
The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation was created and incorporated under the laws of the State of New Jersey as a non-profit organization in September 1987 to assist the committee in building the Memorial. The Memorial Committee was later dissolved.
Groundbreaking ceremonies were held at the site with Governor Tom Kean on May 7, 1989, with veterans groups, family members, and state and local officials in attendance. It would take another two and half years until sufficient funds were raised to start the initial phase of the Memorial’s construction.
During 1990-1991, design concepts were solicited from New Jersey’s sculpting community for the three statues included in the memorial design. The work of Thomas Jay Warren, formerly of Trenton, was chosen and unveiled at ceremonies in the State House Annex in Trenton, in May 1991.
The first phase of construction began on November 19, 1991. Ceremonies on that day were attended by Governor Jim Florio and hundreds of veterans and family members, all of whom witnessed a bulldozer’s first cut into the earth. This phase would see the excavation of thousands of cubic yards of earth, the pouring of 1,000 cubic yards of concrete for the memorial’s foundation, inner structure and the outer ringtail, and the beginnings of initial landscape work. This first phase of work continued through 1992 and 1993, stopping only during the winter months.
The various construction phases of the Memorial lasted more than four years. As new money was raised to support the construction, another phase of the Memorial was completed. Finally in the fall of 1994, the final phase of construction began and a target date of May 7, 1995 was set to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the end of the war.
The Last Patrol
It all began with an idea about honor and coming home. The Last Patrol, a group of 15 New Jersey Vietnam Veterans and three Nurses who served in Vietnam traveled over 200 miles from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. to the future site of the NJVVMF.
Their goal was to bring their fallen brothers and sister back home to New Jersey while raising awareness about the state’s Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. The group marched from May 13 through 27, stopping at township memorials along the way to honor their fallen brothers and sisters.
The Patrol began two weeks earlier, in Washington D.C. as members of the group and volunteers made rubbings of the 1,486 known New Jerseyans on the Memorial. Placed in a box, these were attached to Henry Rossi’s wheelchair for the trip home.
A highly decorated group, there were 24 Purple Hearts among to the members of the Patrol. Walking between 19 and 23 miles per day, the group spent their nights eating at local VFW posts and resting in local hotels.
As a direct result of their dedication, passion and respect, the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial was successfully funded and dedicated on May 7, 1995. May 7, 2015 marked our 20th Anniversary.
Architect of the Memorial
Hien Nguyen, a native of Vietnam, is the designer of the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. He came to the United States as a college student in the last days of the war. He fled his homeland in 1975, days before the city of Saigon fell to the Communist forces from the North. His family was separated in the last frantic days, but was later reunited in the United States. Today Nguyen, a naturalized citizen, lives in Old Bridge, New Jersey.
After completing his education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1980, Hguyen became an architect. His design for the open-air memorial was selected from over 400 submitted for consideration. The only requirements given to the architects for the memorial was that it must include the names of all those killed in action or listed as missing in action from New Jersey.
A quiet man who shies away from the limelight created the Memorial, Nguyen is committed to the memory of the soldiers who gave their lives for his homeland.
When Nguyen was awarded $5,000 from the selection of his design, he designated that the money be used to help the National League of POW-MIA Families and the Pearl S. Buck Foundation for Amerasian children.
Sculptor of the Memorial
Nationally known for his portraits and figures in bronze, Thomas Jay Warren of Trenton was selected from among many artists to create the three bronze statues that stand at the center of the Memorial.
Warren, a native of Mississippi, was schooled in fine arts and sculpture at Mississippi State College. He later studied at Johnson Atelier Sculpture Institute in Hamilton Township, New Jersey. He was an instructor at Johnson Atelier, teaching portrait and figure modeling.
His sculptures range from life-size to monumental. Warren has created statues of such well known men as Martin Luther King, Jr., for the Newark City Hall and Medgar Evers for a memorial to the slain civil rights leader in Jackson, Mississippi, as well as a marble relief piece of George Washington at Washington’s Crossing, New Jersey.
Warren was commissioned to design three over-sized statues for the Memorial. Cast in bronze, they represent the soldiers who were wounded or killed in Southeast Asia, the women who served and all those who eventually came home.
Guidelines for Items left at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial
Foundation staff collects the items left at the Memorial. If they are deemed safe and appropriate to enter the permanent collection, they are cataloged and kept at the Museum.
If you have questions about donating items to our collection contact Sarah Taggart at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note, our collecting ability is very limited and we are unable to accept the majority of items offered.
Become a permanent part of the Memorial!
Memorial Walkway Paver Program
3 Lines of Text (12 Characters/Line) Entry into the Memorial Walkway Paver Registry Permanent Placement in the Memorial Walkway