Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Editor’s Note: This post was created more than a year ago, and was lost to a blog hack.  Thanks to John Beardsworth for helping to sort out the hack, as well as a more recent one that we’ve been battling for the last month of so. The recent July 4th holiday has prompted me to bring it back out.

Every now and then, I get to work on a project that I’m really proud of – something that is really important.  I consider the virtual Vietnam Veterans Memorial to be one of the best. I was commissioned by to make a digital representation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. They wanted to provide a way for everyone to experience the power of the wall, regardless of their ability to travel to Washington. And they wanted to let visitors leave behind comments and photos, in the same way visitors do at the real wall.

When you click on the name of any person on the wall, you get some information about that person, age, hometown, rank, cause of death. You also get the opportunity to upload comments or photos to the record of that person. In this way the wall becomes more than just a list of 58,000 names – it becomes a record of 58,000 individuals. The tragedy of war, and the depth of the sacrifice of the individual soldier is made all the more real when you see the comments of family, friends, and comrades left behind.

Tips on navigating the site and more on the project after the jump.

The main page of the Wall project is here.  You can type a name in and search, or you can click on the View button and see the wall in Flash. You can zoom and pan around.  It’s hard to imagine what 58,000 names look like until you start looking at them in a context like this.

I think the most compelling part of the website experience, however, is looking through the comments that have been uploaded to the site. Colleagues, friends, family – sometimes close and sometimes far – have poured out their memories.

There’s a link for “member discoveries” which is Footnote-speak for annotations that people have uploaded to the site, or links to other material on the website.  (Example page here). Last Memorial Day, I left this page up and refreshed it periodically as the flood of new posts came through.

Take a look through the comments sometime, and I think you’ll see what I mean.  If you click on the Icon or link to “Footnote Page”, you’ll be able to see all comments that have been left for the person, as well a some other information.

Making the Wall Image

As you might imagine, this was a huge undertaking.  I shot more than 6000 images, for the project, and it took Darren Higgins and me (mostly Darren) months to stitch everything together. We used more than 1300 images and created a final image that was 400,000 pixels wide, and 12,500 pixels tall.

The Park Service did not allow the use of a tripod, so all shots were handheld, and were all shot an oblique angle, since we had to get the reflection of black board showing behind each name. The largest panels were made of 40 or more images stitched together. There’s a more thorough write-up of the project posted on John Nack’s Blog here. Footnote also has a page about the making of the project here.

While you’re having your hot dog, or sitting on the beach, take a minute to think about these young people who lost their lives way too early.