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Sanibel artist Lucas Century recounts his time working on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

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Lucas Century engraving names into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Back in 1982 the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund announced a national design competition for a memorial to veterans killed during the war. A panel of judges were chosen to pick the winning entry. The memorial was planned to be built on a two-acre site just northeast of the Lincoln Memorial.

The president of the memorial fund, Jan Scruggs, was quoted in the Washington Post in 1980 as saying "I hope they keep it simple," he said. "Maybe weeping willows and some benches. And, of course, the names."

The competition received more than 1,400 submissions, and the winning design — which featured the names of the more than 58,000 soldiers who lost their lives during the war engraved on black granite — came from a 21-year-old student at Yale named Maya Lin.

Once the project got underway, it became clear to project managers that accomplishing the task of engraving that many names into granite in the time allotted was practically, and financially, impossible.

It was around that time that a young artist named Lucas Century became aware of the project, and he thought that an engraving technique he’d invented a few years before would make the project feasible. So, he reached out to Maya Lin, and then to the project managers, and the rest is history — his technique was used for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and it was dedicated on schedule on Veterans Day in 1982.

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Lucas Century engraving names into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Century has lived on Sanibel Island since shortly after the project was completed. His engraved glass artwork can be seen all around southwest Florida, including a number of large installations here at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Tara Calligan is an award-winning journalist and a public media producer, writer and online content creator at WGCU. Twitter @TlCalligan