Plans to build an underground Vietnam War education center near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington were shuttered Friday over fundraising issues related to the $130 million project.
In a statement, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund said the organization had raised only $45 million and wasn't optimistic about meeting its funding goal. The unanimous decision was made by Memorial Fund’s seven-member board.
The proposed center was slated to sit near the Vietnam Veterans and Lincoln memorials at the National Mall. It would have featured exhibits and a wall of virtual faces of the 58,000 U.S. military sevicemebers who died in the war.
Over several years, the VVMF collected photos of many of who fought and died in Vietnam.
“We will have to work out the details of what this change means, but I am encouraged by the board's steadfast commitment to going back to our core mission,” VVMF President and CEO Jim Knotts told the Washington Post.
He said the organization plans to create an online education center instead.
The project was plagued by funding problems since it launched in 2001 and faced criticism from some who argued the education center wasn’t needed, given that the wall was already such a profound statement on the war.
On Friday, Jan C. Scruggs, creator of the VVMF, who led the crusade to build the memorial wall, said “the time has come for the VVMF to return the money” to all its donors.
He soured on the project and left the group three years ago.
The Post reported that Scruggs traveled the country in a fundraising campaign and hosted a groundbreaking ceremony in 2012 that featured then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta; Jill Biden, wife of former Vice President Joe Biden; and singer Jimmy Buffett.
Last year, the project received a $10 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, the largest single cash donation in the fund’s history. But as the project’s cost kept rising, Scruggs and the VVMF realized their efforts were fruitless.
In the statement, John Dibble, chairman of the board, said “This project has faced many difficult challenges since Jan Scruggs conceived the idea in 2001. It has been a long road and we have had many success along the way. ... Unfortunately, we’ve reached that point regarding a physical building ... [that] the funding has simply not materialized.”
The VVMF provided the paper with a statement from Chuck Hagel, former secretary of defense and Vietnam Veteran:
“An Education Center building would have become a treasured national asset. However ... I believe the Board made the right decision to focus in technology to educate visitors about the memorial."