As director of events at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF), JoAnn Waller ’04 oversees the organization’s commemorative tributes at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, commonly known as The Wall.
Located in Washington, D.C., The Wall draws millions of visitors each year to pay respect to the more than 58,000 service members who gave their lives in Vietnam. The names of these men and women are inscribed on the polished black granite monument in Constitution Gardens, adjacent to the National Mall and the Lincoln Memorial.
Thanks to Waller’s work in conjunction with the National Park Service, veterans, families and other visitors will gather at The Wall this weekend for the ceremonial Memorial Day events. The ceremony includes various veterans’ organizations laying wreaths, honorary renditions of “Amazing Grace” and “Taps,” and a keynote speech from Vietnam veteran Captain Dale Dye, USMC.
Waller, who majored in English and minored in women’s studies at HWS, joined VVMF as an executive assistant for Jan Scruggs, the fund’s founder and then-president (now retired president emeritus). In 2011, she rose to her current role as director of events, overseeing observances on Veterans Day, Father’s Day and the In Memory Day, as well as on Memorial Day. Waller is also working to prepare for The Wall’s 35th anniversary next year, which will include the annual reading of each name on The Wall in order.
“It takes about four and a half days, more than 100 hours, from 5 a.m. through midnight in the days leading up to Veterans Day. It’s a powerful experience to be part of,” she says.
In addition to The Wall itself, the Memorial site includes the Three Servicemen Statue, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Statue and the In Memory plaque. While the names on The Wall honor those service members who died during the war itself, “the In Memory program honors people who served but later died as a result of their service, from PTSD-related issues or from Agent Orange for example,” Waller explains.
For Waller, the In Memory program “is the most emotional of the events. For these families, having their loved ones honored and being around people who understand what that means is powerful and personal. I work with them for about a year, so I get to know them well.”
In fact, Waller keeps in regular contact with families of some honorees. “Part of my job is to be here to listen,” she explains. “I added a woman’s husband to the In Memory program, and she calls me every year. It can be emotionally taxing, but it’s also very rewarding.”
The photos above were taken during the observance at The Wall in 2013. In the second photo, Director of events at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, JoAnn Waller stand with former Secretary of State Colin Powell.