This Art Installation Pays Tribute to the Soldiers Who Lost Their Lives in Vietnam

Photo Credit: Tim Boyle / Getty Images

At the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago, Illinois is one of the most powerful pieces of military art ever constructed. Titled Above and Beyond, the installation pays tribute to those servicemen who lost their lives during the Vietnam War – all 58, 307 of them.

Close up of numerous dog tags
Above and Beyond on display at the National Veterans Art Museum, then known as the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum, 2005. (Photo Credit: Tim Boyle / Getty Images)

Above and Beyond was commissioned by the National Veterans Art Museum and co-sponsored by the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. It was a joint creation by Rick Steinbock and Vietnam War veterans Joe Fornelli, Ned Broderick and Mike Helbing. After two years of work, it made its debut on May 26, 2001, during Chicago‘s Memorial Day parade.

The piece is comprised of 58,307 military dog tags, one for each soldier who lost their lives during the conflict. Spread one-inch apart and a total size of 13 feet by 34 feet, the dog tags are arranged in order of when the servicemen died, and each features their name, casualty date and the military branch with which they served. There is also a single black dog tag representing those who died from conditions related to their service in Vietnam.

Each was stamped by hand using a military Graphotype machine.

View of Above and Beyond from below
Photo Credit: Tim Boyle / Getty Images

Above and Beyond is a powerful piece of art that makes a bold statement on the impact of combat in our society, and is all the more potent as it was created by veteran artists who served in Vietnam,” National Veterans Art Museum chairman Lionel Rabb told ArtNet. “Above and Beyond exemplifies the quality and stature of veteran art, while showing its ability to expose people to the realities of war and combat.”

When visitors walk beneath the piece, the chains flutter, striking each other like wind chimes. Nearby is an interactive kiosk, where the names of those stamped on the dog tags are listed, as well as their general location.

Male walking below Above and Beyond
Photo Credit: Tim Boyle / Getty Images

Above and Beyond hung at the National Veterans Art Museum until 2012. When the museum moved to Portage Place, the piece remained, until it was forced into storage during building renovations in May 2013. For years, it remained packed away, as the museum was unable to find a suitable location for it.

“The search for a spot for Above and Beyond was complicated by the size and weight of the piece, not to mention it is viewed best in natural light, so the sun can play off the tags,” wrote Annie Sweeney in the Chicago Tribune. “Viewing it from all sides also enhances the experience.”

Eventually, the Harold Washington Library Center at 400 South State Street in Chicago was chosen as the appropriate location for the piece. While it was initially only scheduled to be on display at the library until April 2020, its residency has since been extended.

Close up of numerous dog tags
Photo Credit: Tim Boyle / Getty Images

Aside from The Wall in Washington, D.C., Above and Beyond is the only memorial that lists the names of all those killed while serving in Vietnam.