The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire

War, Remembrance, and an American Tragedy

Steven Trout

A great white angel spreading her wings across the Moreno Valley: this is how one visitor described the memorial standing atop a windswept prominence in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Taos, New Mexico. A de-facto national Vietnam veterans memorial, built by one family more than a decade before the Wall in Washington, DC, and without aid or recognition from the US government, the chapel at Angel Fire is a testament to one young American’s sacrifice—but also to the profound determination of his family to find meaning in their loss. In The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire, Steven Trout tells the story of Marine Lieutenant David Westphall, who was killed near Con Thien on May 22, 1968, and of the Westphall family’s subsequent struggle to create and maintain a one-of-a-kind memorial chapel dedicated to the memory of all Americans lost in the Vietnam War and to the cause of world peace.

Focused primarily on a life lost amid our nation’s most controversial conflict and on the Westphalls’ desperate battle to keep their chapel open between 1971 and 1982, the book’s brisk and moving narrative traces the memorial’s evolution from a personal act of family remembrance to its emergence as an iconic pilgrimage destination for thousands of Vietnam veterans. Documenting the chapel’s shifting messages over time, which include a momentary (and controversial) recognition of the dead on both sides of the war, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire spotlights one American soldier’s tragic story and the monument to hope and peace that it inspired.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire: War, Remembrance, and an American Tragedy is an engaging narrative on the fascinating story of the creation of an essential memorial that set the stage for the national one in Washington, DC. Steven Trout’s extensive research and lively storytelling on this significant topic contributes meaningfully to our understanding of the Vietnam War and its role in our national memory. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire is a dramatic human interest story, well told, and highly recommended.”

—Kyle Longley, author of The Morenci Marines: A Tale of Small Town America and the Vietnam War

“Combining biography, history, and memory, Steven Trout has given us an insightful and clear-eyed view of the first national Vietnam veterans memorial and the family that constructed it. Along the way he skillfully assesses the complex, conflicting, and evolving meanings of an idiosyncratic site of remembrance that was intended to honor both military service and the quest for peace.”

—Christian G. Appy, author of American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity

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About the Author

Steven Trout is professor of English, chair of the Department of English, and codirector of the Center for the Study of War and Memory at the University of South Alabama. His books include On the Battlefield of Memory: The First World War and American Remembrance, 1919–1941 and Memorial Fictions: Willa Cather and the First World War.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series