In 1981, at the age 21, Lin won a design competition for the memorial, and her entry produced the now famous polished black granite wall, with the names of 58,260 fallen soldiers carved into its face. As a Chinese American, she faced much opposition and criticism; letters were written protesting that a "gook" was chosen to create this iconic structure, recalled Lin in an interview with ABC.
When a reporter at the time asked Lin if it was ironic that someone of Asian heritage was selected, she said she was "happily naive to think that one shouldn't be judged by race" and dismissed the question. She conceded that "in hindsight, the reporter was right."
Decades have passed, and even the memorial's harshest critics now accept that this striking yet solemn monument honors the veterans of Vietnam.
Lin's Chinese heritage was by deliberate parental design not part of her childhood.
"My mother was smuggled out of China at the age of 20 and never saw her father again," said Lin.
"My parents left their homeland and brought very little with them," she reflected. "They made a conscious decision not to bring me up bilingual in order to assimilate. I grew up in Athens, Ohio, and we were the only Chinese family in the city. Everyone was Caucasian."