Initially, the names on the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial in Washington, D.C. was presumed to organize the names of fallen heroes in alphabetical order. However, it presented some difficulties upon closer inspection - there were 600 veterans with the last name Smith, and 16 men named James Jones, for example.
Listing the names alphabetically would make the names on the memorial indistinguished — the families and loved ones of those 16 James Jones wouldn’t be able to tell which James Jones was theirs. The solution, proposed by memorial designer Maya Ying Lin, was to list the names of fallen soliders chronologically by date of death.
Not only does this distinguish the deceased for those paying respect, but organizing the names chronologically tells the story of the war - one individual, human person at a time. Instead of looking like a telephone book of listings, each name stands out with the dignity due any individual.
In alphabetical order, it would be easy to scan through the names and not feel the impact of 58,000 unique, individual lives lost. Chronologically, in the order each fell, the weight and solemnity is much greater.
(information on the memorial taken from Envisioning Information by Edward R. Tufte)
Photo: Finding a Name (by Gregory Jordan)