The Web site, its arrival timed to coincide with Veterans Day, is directly inspired by the names engraved on the polished black-granite Vietnam memorial wall on the Washington mall, which attracts 2.5 million visitors a year.
"For 15 years, people have come to the Vietnam Wall to run their hands across the names and remember those who never came home," Vice President Al Gore said Tuesday. "Now, anybody who can run their hands across a computer keyboard will be able to make contact with those names and learn that they belong to brothers and sons, husbands and wives, mothers and daughters."
The vice president, a Vietnam veteran himself, addressed a group of veterans in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
The new Web site, a joint project of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and WinStar Communications Inc., will become available in two stages.
Beginning now, users can call up the Web site, click onto a deceased veteran's name and, in many cases, hear audio remembrances from family members or friends.
In January, Web site visitors will be able to experience a "virtual wall," a recreation of the look of the Vietnam Memorial wall at its location near the national mall. The audio memories will be preserved and expanded.
"The Web site is expected to become the largest single depository of oral history about individual Vietnam veterans," WinStar said in a statement.
Kiosks will be set up as part of the smaller, traveling Vietnam Wall for people to record their memories about the war itself and those who died there. The traveling wall is to be displayed in about 30 U.S. cities over the next year.
The Web site is part of an education program aimed at young people, especially those born after the war ended. The young Americans Vietnam War Era Studies Projects will supply class material about the war, its politics and those who served to all 25,700 U.S. high schools.
Stanley Karnow, who has written extensively about the war, said the project will help answer the questions, "How did we get involved in Vietnam? What went wrong? What did we learn?"
Written by Lawrence L. Knutson