The polished black granite wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was defaced by scratches in the shape of a swastika some time in April, the first vandalism of the memorial since it opened in 1982, the National Park Service said.
The swastika and other scratches were found on two panels near the middle of the 493-foot memorial, which lists the names of more than 58,000 Americans killed in the Vietnam War and is Washington's most visited memorial.
"This is a living memorial," Bill Ruback, superintendent of the downtown national parks, told the Washington Post Monday. "The wall itself has such great respect that we have never had problems with damage. It had to be someone crazy to do this."
Jan Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which raised the money to build the memorial, said that although the scratches are not deep he is upset about the damage.
"It is such a crass act," Scruggs told the Post. "We worried about vandalism from the time we began to talk about a memorial. We were told by the Park Service that if we made it through the first year, we would probably be all right."
The scratches first were noticed by a park ranger last month as he was picking up mementos left on and near the wall.
Scruggs said a specialist in polished surfaces will come to Washington to inspect the damaged panels and recommend repairs.