Thirty years ago, top political and military brass gathered in Constitution Gardens on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to dedicate the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a symbol of healing for a nation and its warriors from one of America’s most divisive wars.
Among those attending the dedication on Nov. 13, 1982, were members of the Rogan family, owners for three generations of Calumet Monument in Hammond. They were there as more than spectators, rubbing shoulders with the VIPS.
Calumet Monument won the bid in March 1982 to supply and fashion the reflective black granite panels that make up The Wall, the first and most famous part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
“It was everything we hoped for,” said Tom Rogan, of Munster, at a recent joint meeting of the Munster Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2697 and American Legion Post 16 of Munster.
He also credited the computer department at Purdue University Calumet with making possible the specialized engraving of 58,175 names on the black granite panels.
Much about the memorial’s selection and construction was almost as divisive as the war, Rogan said during his presentation.
To stem some of the political influence, the 1,421 designs submitted for memorial were only numbered.
“Bill Blass was one of those designers and his name would have carried a lot of weight,” Rogan said.
A panel of eight architects and sculptors unanimously selected entry number 1026 by Maya Ying Lin, a 21-year-old architecture student at Yale University.
From the beginning, Rogan said, the choice and her design were controversial.
Maya Lin is an Asian, designing a memorial for a war in Southeast Asia, although she is a third-generation American, he said
Her design was called “the black wall of shame and a gash in the earth,” Rogan said.
But once it was approved by the U.S. Congress on March 11, 1982, Maya Lin was in charge of the monument’s design and no changes could be made, he said.
In fact, he said, H. Ross Perot, of Texas, insisted that she include an American flag in the design.
“She told him, ‘You’re not putting a mustache on my painting,'” Rogan said.
One reason Calumet Monument won the bid, Tom Rogan said, was because his brother, Jim, found exactly the kind of black granite needed in India.
After winning the bid, the Rogans ordered slabs of Indian granite that was shipped packed with coffee beans as a filler in the hull of large cargo ships that docked in New York City.
“We went to Barre, Vt., and rented a factory so we would be close to the granite,” he said.
Under Jim Rogan’s watchful eye, workers slabbed the black granite “like a loaf of bread," flattened the surface and prepared the 75 panels for engraving, said Tom Rogan. “We made 10 extra panels in case one broke.”
A family member went with each panel to Memphis, where the names were first printed on large mylar sheets to be etched using a photoemulsion and sandblasting technique.
PUC came to the rescue when the Tennessee company realized the Pentagon’s computers and their design computers weren’t communicating. Names were being spelled incorrectly on the large mylar sheets because of that disconnect.
“Purdue Calumet’s computer department figured out a program to allow the military’s computer to talk to the designers’ computers,” Tom Rogan said.
More than 3 million people visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial each year.
“It is a healing wall,” Rogan said.