Jan Scruggs
Memorial founder

Jan Scruggs

Founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.


The risks not taken

Q: At some point in your life, you probably decided to take a leap of faith and go in a direction -- professionally or personally -- that others did not expect. Like quit Goldman Sachs to be a goat farmer. Or leave a company job for your own venture. Was the move a success? Did the new direction turn out the way you thought it would?

Not all risks we take in life turn out as we hope. This is why casinos in Las Vegas tend to do predictably quite well overall. But, unlike the inherent desire to get quick money in gambling, there are other risks we that we all either take -- or do not take.

Few risks are like as scary as career risks. After all, the outcome of our decisions comes months and years after which we decide to go down a one particular road rather than the other. The most successful people take risks. Some people take big risks like running for office or putting all of ones assets on the line to start a business. Investment analysts talk about the "risk/reward ratio" of various stock, real estate and bond funds. More risky investments have greater rewards and an elevated risk of loss -- an apt metaphor for life.

In high school I decided to take a risk. My mom, a lifelong waitress, actually quit school in the 8th grade during the depression to be a field hand in Alabama. My parents never had a chance for an education or financial success in life. What they lacked in education and sophistication they made up for by being examples of honest and hard-working people.

I graduated from Bowie High School in 1968 and thankfully grew up with friends whose dads were engineers at NASA and military officers. I was exposed to a world of successful people and wanted to be like them. I had a plan.

In 1968 I would volunteer to fight in Vietnam which, I believed, would result in a college education through the GI Bill. My peers were generally quite determined not to end up in the military. My time in Nam was unpleasant. I have a dozen pieces of shrapnel embedded here and there. I was quite elated to leave the Army.

I got a BA and MEd from American University and, later, a law degree from the University of Maryland. My risks, therefore, had the desired reward. I began a career with the federal government with complete job security and a very generous pension. Today I would actually be retired watching the waves lap up on some Florida beach. But this was not to be.

In 1979 I had an idea for a national Memorial on the Mall honoring those Americans who served in Vietnam and engraved with the names of all of the fallen from that war. I simply had to do this. It became an epic quest. Somehow a team of people emerged and we made the right decisions that got The Wall built and dedicated in 1982. This whole story was made into a TV movie -- "To Heal A Nation." I was played by Eric Roberts.

I am now 60. Instead of watching the ocean in Florida, I work constantly. The major effort underway is the Education Center at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This has been ongoing for over a decade despite clever attempts to derail and delay the endeavor (www.vvmf.org).

The center will be a profound educational experience on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial using the proximity and synergy with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to teach about values like loyalty, duty, respect and courage which have been exhibited beginning in 1775 at a place called Lexington Green and continue to this day among our armed forces. When people like you and I are at the grocery store, a scared 19-year-old Marine is returning rifle fire with well-armed fanatics in Afghanistan. The center will be a place where the values of people like this can be understood by their fellow U.S citizens.

Would I do anything different? Not at all. I have taken the road less travelled, I suppose. Did someone write a poem with those words???? O yes. A guy named Frost.


TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

By Jan Scruggs  |  August 2, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Going for it Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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My brother, Sp4 Stanely D. Ross, was killed in Vietnam in 1969. I appreciate all that is done for our veterans. It was a long time coming, but finally our Vietnam Vets are getting the attention and honor they deserve.Let your voices be heard and extend a hand to those who have given so much. If you would like to read more about the personal sacrifices of those brave men and women and the families who experienced their loss,I invite you to read "With Love Stan: A Soldier's Letters From Vietnam To The World." available at amazonbooks
Also the 199th, LIB site is a very good place to learn more about the men and women who served in that war.
A Soldier's grateful sister.

Posted by: kinkansas | August 3, 2010 11:09 AM
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Jan Scruggs took many risks and provides the example that answers the question "If not me, who? If not now, when?" He sustained physical and mental wounds that might have caused others to quit and go "into a shell" but he continued to persevere because he believed in a cause. When he returned from Vietnam and saw how he and other returning veterans were treated he decided to do something about it and dedicated his Life to this cause-"Remember those who served and gave their all".

Posted by: AnthonyFasolo | August 2, 2010 8:58 PM
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