Of the 2.9 million men and women who served in Vietnam during the war, New York City provided one of the largest contingents. They came from every neighborhood in the city, from all ethnic groups and all walks of life. The service that they saw was as varied as their backgrounds, and the vast majority of them performed their duties to the best of their ability.
How, then, could we fail to recognize the contribution of our relatives, neighbors, and friends who sacrificed so much? Understandably, many Americans wanted to forget about the war once it was over, but in the process they forgot about those who were sent to fight it. Yet our common responsibility to these veterans remains clear, and as mayor of New York City I decided it was time to do something about it.
In 1981, I appointed a task force of 27 leading citizens of this city to develop a framework for a fitting memorial to our Vietnam-era veterans. This task force recommended a twofold tribute: first, a physical memorial to honor the service and sacrifice of those who answered their country's call during the difficult time of the Vietnam War, one that would combine an acknowledgment of those who fell with a celebration of life for those who returned; second, a jobs program, which we call our "living memorial," to address the continuing employment problems of many of our Vietnam veterans, tailored to their specific needs.
To implement these recommendations, I established the New York Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission in the fall of 1982. One hundred citizens from New York City, over half of whom are Vietnam-era veterans, volunteered their time and effort to raise in excess of $1 million from private donations to realize these two elements of a truly significant memorial.