Sarah Wagner George Washington University

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Homecomings, belonging and the mediating memory work of US Vietnam War remains

A half-century since its conclusion, the Vietnam War’s ‘work of remembrance’ in the United States continues to generate, even innovate, forms of homecoming and claims of belonging among the state, its military and veterans, surviving families and the wider public. Such commemoration often centres on objects that materialise, physically or symbolically, absence and longed-for recovery or reunion – from wartime artefacts-turned-mementos to the identified remains of missing war dead. In exploring the war’s proliferating memory work, this article examines the small-scale but persistent practice of leaving or scattering cremains at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington DC, against the backdrop of the US military’s efforts to account for service members missing in action (MIA). Seen together, the illicit and sanctioned efforts to return remains (or artefacts closely associated with them) to places of social recognition and fellowship shed light on the powerful role the dead have in mediating war’s meaning and the debts it incurs.

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