Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the gift from her government on Monday at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, before meeting with President Barack Obama. Australia was a U.S. ally in the Vietnam War, and more than 500 Australians lost their lives during the conflict.
Australia’s donation will help fund “The Education Center at the Wall.” The project is an ambitious effort to put a face and a story to each of the 58,267 names cut in the smooth black granite of the memorial known simply as “The Wall.”
The two-story visitor center will be built entirely underground, to preserve the stark nature of the memorial. Exhibits will include a selection of more than 10,000 items that visitors have left at the wall, as well as a timeline of key events in the Vietnam War and a history of the memorial itself, as well as an exit exhibit with images of those who served in all of America’s conflicts, beginning with the Revolutionary War.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is building the center entirely with private funds. The project is estimated to cost approximately $85 million. Approximately $26 million has been raised so far, according to the VVMF. Groundbreaking is expected in 2012 or 2013.