The National Park Service plans to accommodate veterans and active duty troops who shine the base of the flagpole at the Vietnam Memorial. But it has asked the polishers to wait until it changes the patina from its original dark brown to a brighter finish, Stephen Lorenzetti, deputy superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, told me.
When the flagpole was erected at the memorial in 1984, the pole and its bronze base, on which are attached the emblems of all four services plus the Coast Guard, were designed with a dark brown patina, Lorenzetti said.
This did not make sense to Marines stationed at the historic Marine Barracks at 8th and I Streets in Washington, who never met a piece of brass or bronze that did not need shining. The Marines have repeatedly buffed the flagpole base "like a brass buckle," Lorenzetti said.
After the Marines shined and buffed, NPS came back to reapply the dark brown patina. But then troops and veterans from other services started shining the brass, too. That cycle kept on for 25 years, creating what Lorenzetti called a mish-mash between the shining and patina processes.
Unlike other memorials in Washington, the Vietnam Memorial is what Jan Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Memorial Fund, describes as a "living memorial," where people leave gifts at the base of The Wall and shine the bronze at the base of the flagpole, based on a wellspring of spirit that does not dovetail with park policy or design intent.
Army Sgt. Caleb Barrieau, an Iraq war veteran, and Joe Mancinik, a post-9/11 veteran, ran afoul of this policy on May 30 when their flagpole-base polishing was interrupted by a park ranger and policeman who told them they were violating policy and to stop buffing.
Lorenzetti said he and NPS realize that the policy does not mesh with the reality of troops and veterans paying homage to the fallen. He knows these veterans "love the Vietnam Memorial," and he understand that the simple act of polishing is a physical act that displays that love.
NPS now plans to redesign the flagpole base in cooperation with the Vietnam Memorial Fund with a bright finish that can be shined.
This, of course, will require letting a contract, a process Lorenzetti said he hopes will only take two months. Once the bright finish is done, NPS will provide cleaning and shining materials through the Vietnam Memorial volunteer coordinator. And the park service promised that working with that coordinator will not be a bureaucratic exercise.
Lorenzetti promised he will let me know when polishing can begin again, and I plan to be there for what I hope will be a mass shine-in.