Mission Accomplished ... For Now
Spurred by the memory of the many friends he watched die in Vietnam, Scruggs returned to the U.S. determined to memorialize the 58,272 American servicepeople who never returned. His first efforts at garnering support for a memorial got a less-than-enthusiastic response from fellow vets who thought it was more important to provide better benefits for those returning from Vietnam than to build a memorial.
According to Arbogast, Scruggs liquidated some land he had received as an inheritance and started VVMF with a whopping $2,800 — enough to hire a lawyer to incorporate the organization and hold a press conference, which took place on Memorial Day, 1979, to announce plans to raise $1 million to build a memorial.
Scruggs' initiative didn't prompt much media attention, but a few small donations began to trickle in. By July, the Memorial Fund had collected only $144.50, a fact that was reported on the "CBS Evening News" and even lampooned on late-night television.
Not exactly a high point, one would think, but that television exposure caught the eye of John Wheeler, a graduate of West Point, Yale Law School and Harvard Business School, who also served in Vietnam and spearheaded the effort to build a Southeast Asia Memorial at West Point.
Wheeler helped Scruggs recruit support from Vietnam-era veterans who had deep ties in the professional community. From there, word began to spread. According to Arbogast, things really took off when comedian Bob Hope was recruited as the face of a formal direct-mail campaign.
"Word started to spread, and money started coming in," he says. "Maybe you would get 50 cents in an envelope or $1.50, $2, $5. It picked up steam, and more and more people were interested in getting involved.
"The American Legion pledged a million dollars, and there were corporate contributions that came close to equaling that amount," he adds, "but the money that built The Wall was in large part from $5 and $10 check writers, guys who passed the hat at the bar and sent that money in."