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Vietnam Memorial Has Spelling Errors Set In Stone

Feb 24, 2012
Originally published on February 25, 2012 12:50 pm

As National Park Service officials consider how to change a truncated quote on the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, another group continues to slowly chip away at another set of mistakes on a monument that were also — literally — set in stone.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., has more than 58,000 names of service members engraved in 144 panels of stone. But after the monument was erected in 1982, some of the names were found to be misspelled.

Jan Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation, says the monument is still "probably the most accurate memorial in the entire world."

"But 1/10th of 1 percent of the names — a little bit over 100 — were misspelled," Scruggs says. "Sixty-two of them have been re-engraved."

Scruggs says it costs about $4,000 to fix each name. Sometimes the change is easy — like changing an "L" into an "E." But other times, it means moving the name to another spot on the wall.

"The second name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — as statistically improbable as it may sound — is actually one of those spelled incorrectly," Scruggs says.

His name is Chester Ovnand — not Charles, as carved on the memorial. Ovnand was killed by the Viet Cong in 1959 while watching a movie. Scruggs said the foundation ended up moving Ovnand's name to a different panel.

"Historically, that removes everything from the way this memorial was designed," he says. "The names of the people who died together are on the wall together and they are alphabetized by day. So when we found a place to put his name, we had to put him in with the 1966 casualties."

But Scruggs says not every family chooses to have the mistakes corrected. Evangelista Pagan Rodriguez's first name is misspelled as "Evangelis" on the memorial. Scruggs says the family wanted to keep the Army private where he was on the wall — with the others who died in Vietnam on Nov. 26, 1966.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The MLK memorial isn't the only monument bedeviled by mistakes in stone. There are more than 58,000 names engraved on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and some of them have been misspelled.

Jan Scruggs is president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation.

JAN SCRUGGS: This is probably the most accurate memorial in the entire world, but one-tenth of one percent of the names, a little bit over 100, were misspelled. Sixty-two of them have been reengraved.

CORNISH: That's at a cost of about $4,000 per name. Sometimes, the fix has been straightforward, changing one letter into another, an L into an E, for example, but other times, fixing a misspelled name means moving it elsewhere on the wall.

SCRUGGS: The second name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as statistically improbable as it may sound, is actually one of those spelled incorrectly. Chester Ovnand from Oklahoma, killed by the Viet Kong in 1959 while watching a movie. In order to reengrave it, we had to move it from panel one to panel 7E. I'm mentioning that because, historically, that removes everything from the way this memorial was designed.

The names of the people who died together are on the wall together and they are alphabetized by day, so when we found a place to put his name, we ended up having to put him in with the 1966 casualties.

CORNISH: Scruggs says not every family chooses to have mistakes corrected. Evangelista Pagan Rodriguez's first name is misspelled as Evangelis on the memorial. Scruggs says the family wanted to keep the Army Private where he was on the wall with the others who died in Vietnam on November 26, 1966.

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