It was a time of turmoil for all citizens across the country. In New Jersey, as in everywhere else, families were deeply affected when American went off to fight a war in Vietnam. Unlike previous wars, this one was to split the country apart. No one was to go unaffected. Vietnam had moral, social and political ramification. It is no wonder that, when the war ended, many wanted to simply forget it had existed.
As the years progressed, America was able to look back at Vietnam with less trepidation. They began to realize it required acknowledgment. The nation’s veterans fought to ensure all who died and those who lived were not simply ignored. As part of the overall healing process, work began on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (VVM) or simply “the Wall.” Started in 1982, it was completed in 1984, inspiring veteran groups and individuals across the nation to consider a similar project.
New Jersey First
New Jersey was the first to take up the challenge. Shortly after visiting the wall, a group of Jersey Veterans began to lobby for their own wall. They succeeded. In 1995 the New Jersey Veterans’ Memorial became a permanent part of the landscape at 1 Memorial Lane, Holmdel, NJ.
Yet, this was not enough. New Jersey Veterans, as part of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation, decided to create a museum. It was to honor those who had served in Vietnam but to go one step further. The Vietnam Veterans Museum was to provide context. It was to provide the living with a comprehensive picture of the whole conflict.
The Museum took shape slowly but energetically. It was, after all, a new concept. It was the first time a museum was to dedicate itself to the Vietnam War. It was important to get the right mix.
The Vietnam Veterans’ Museum was to not simply relate the Vietnam War; it was to place it into context. It was going to try to provide visitors with a chance to learn more about the conflict and how it affected the lives of those living and fighting in Vietnam and those living in the United States.
The Vietnam Veterans’ War Museum opened in 1998. It was dubbed an “Educational Center.” It retained this name until 2010 when officially the name changed to Vietnam Era Museum & Educational Center. By this time, it was receiving over 14,000 visitors annually.
The Museum lets history unfold through letters, photographs, videos and other material. The displays are interactive and the posted chronological timelines of the War help to understand the playing out of the conflict on two separate fronts – at home and in Vietnam. The Oral History Theater and the Multi-Purpose Room allow the Museum and Center to complete its mission – to help visitors reach an increased understanding of what was the cause and reality of the conflict both in Vietnam and at home.