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Americas Veterans with Disabilities Get a Memorial All Their Own

October 1, 2014
Source: Washington Post

When Marine Corporal Jessie Fletcher lost both his legs in a bombing in Afghanistan on October 17, 2011, he never imagined a memorial that would honor him and so many other veterans like him.

On Sunday, though, the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, which has been built adjacent to the U.S. Botanic Garden and within view of the Capitol building, will officially open to the public, almost three years to the day after Fletcher was injured.

Through a mixture of granite slabs, glass panels and a single flame flanked by a solemn reflecting pool, the memorial tells the story of veterans from every conflict and from every branch of service who have borne the brunt of battle and lived to carry the visible, and invisible, wounds of war. Designed by architect Michael Vergason, it is dedicated to both the living and the deceased.

For Fletcher, whose long road to recovery began on a windswept hill in southern Afghanistan, the memorial is a recognition of his sacrifice.

“Its a wonderful feeling knowing that there are people in our country that appreciate the service and contribution that disabled veterans have given,” Fletcher said upon learning of the memorials opening. “Its nice for the caregivers to see as well.”

Initially, over 700 quotes encapsulating disabled veterans experiences were collected; after a lengthy review process, 18 were selected for the glass panels, bronze sculptures and granite walls.

“Nothing could be a more melancholy and distressing sight, than to behold those who have shed their blood or lost their limbs in the service of their Country,” reads a quote by George Washington that is engraved on one of the walls.

The memorials project executive, Barry Owenby, sees the inscriptions at the 2.4-acre site as emblematic of the disabled veterans journey. “They tell the story,” Owenby explained as he pointed to one of the quotes on a recent day. The glass “shows injury, healing and the rediscovery of purpose.”

The memorial marks the culmination of 16 years of planning that, according to the Disabled Veterans Memorial Foundation, began in 1997 with a conversation between philanthropist Lois Pope and Jesse Brown, then the secretary of veterans affairs.

Brown put Pope, the widow of the founder of the “National Enquirer” magazine, in touch with Art Wilson, a disabled Vietnam veteran and then-national adjutant of the nonprofit Disabled American Veterans, to discuss issues facing disabled veterans and their families. At one point, Pope asked Wilson where to find the Washington memorial honoring Americas disabled veterans. When Wilson responded that no such memorial existed, Pope decided she was going to help create one.

Almost two decades and two major wars later, the memorial is ready for the public, with President Obama scheduled to deliver remarks at a formal ceremony [on] Sunday. The lengthy process is typical for any memorial in the nations capital, as is the significant investment needed to build it — the foundation raised more than $80 million in donations.

Legislation for the memorial, introduced with bipartisan support in 1998, was signed into law by then President Bill Clinton in October 2000. Since 2005, long-time veterans advocate and actor, Gary Sinise, has headed the memorials fundraising campaign.

Sinise, who donated some of his own funds to the project, has been involved with Disabled American Veterans since 1994, the same year of the release of “Forrest Gump,” in which Sinise played the role of disabled veteran Lt. Dan Taylor. Following the September 11 attacks, Sinise said he became active working with veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and happily agreed when Wilson asked him if he would be interested in being a spokesman for the memorial.

“So many individuals and stories have inspired me over the years and have inspired me to give back,” Sinise said in a recent interview. “I [am] just one of many that helped get it done.”

As the opening ceremony nears, Wilson said he believes the memorial will help remind politicians of the realities of war.

The memorial “is for all those that have come before us and all those that will come after,” he said. “It is a lasting reminder of the cost of war and its built in this location to give lawmakers the presence of mind of that cost.”

The dedication ceremony for the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday, October 5, at the memorial site, 150 Washington Ave., SW (Washington Ave. & Second St. SW). For more information, go to

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