The proposed design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial angered some Vietnam veterans and others who felt that it did not convey the heroism, patriotism, and honor inherent in most war memorials. To them, placement of the memorial below ground level hid it from view, while its color further hinted at a feeling of shame. They thought the memorial focused too much on death and loss. The Three Servicemen Statue was a compromise to that controversy, a compromise that sought to continue the healing of a nation.
Maya Ying Lin's design, consisting of a long, black granite wall upon which would be etched the names of the 58,249 men and women who died and were missing from the Vietnam War, sought to honor their collective sacrifice. A veteran assailed the design as the "black gash of shame." Other detractors criticized it as a "black, flagless pit," while others attacked it as being "unheroic," "death-oriented," and "intentionally not meaningful." Supporters of her design felt that personal, political, or ethical reservations about the war could be set aside in order to remember and honor those who served.
As debate raged over Maya Lin's design, opponents suggested throwing it out and starting over again, while members of Congress registered their disapproval. James Watt, Secretary of the Interior in the Reagan Administration, refused to issue a building permit for the memorial. Under the threat of losing their memorial, the veterans, their supporters and their opponents met to find a compromise. They decided to add a statue and a flagpole. These would symbolize in a more traditional manner the patriotism and heroism that some of the veterans and opponents thought was lacking in Lin's design.