By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
The Vietnam Wall and the massive granite columns of the World War II Memorial are some of the first things you picture when you think about war memorials – beautiful shrines honoring the men and women who sacrificed so much during those long-ago wars.
Several younger veterans are hoping to make the same possible for those who served and are still serving in the nation’s longest war – the Global War on Terror.
The Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation is organizing efforts to build a memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to honor U.S. service members, their families and all who have supported our troops during the past 15 years of war.
Now you might be thinking, “Why? We’re still fighting that.” I thought that, too, but I also thought the idea was interesting, so I wanted to find out more about it. I met with three of the men involved in the effort at the National Mall – an appropriate spot to get the details on such an undertaking. It turns out West Point grad and Army veteran Andrew Brennan came up with the idea when he bumped into a group of veteran cyclists on their way to D.C. for the annual Rolling Thunder ride.
“A lot of the Vietnam-era veterans that started the awesome traditions of Rolling Thunder and the Run for the Wall, they’re going to be trading in their Harleys and gold wings soon for golf carts in Florida,” Brennan said. “If these traditions are going to continue, it’s going to be our generation, along with the Desert Storm generation, to continue that.”
The foundation is in its infancy, but several Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are involved think now is the perfect time to begin planning.
“Some of the veterans who fought at the very beginning in 2001, who may have been 40 at the time – right now they’re 55, so if it takes us 10 years, that veteran’s going to be 65 and later in life,” Brennan explained. “It would be great if they’d have the ability to come here and pay their respects … and be able to … explain the history of what they did and what their friends did to their kids and grandkids.”
There are a few hurdles they have to jump through first, though – like amending the 1986 Commemorative Works Act, which says a war memorial can’t be built until 10 years after the end of hostilities.
“Given the nature of the Global War on Terror – most think tanks are saying [it could go on for] 80-100 years, or into perpetuity. We would never qualify under the way the law was written in 1986,” Brennan said.
They’re working to get support from veterans’ organizations to help amend the act to say memorials can be built 10 years after the start of a conflict. The group used the World War II Memorial, which wasn’t built until 2004, as a good example of why.
“There were too many people who didn’t get a chance to see the World War II Memorial who fought in it,” said Army Reservist Chad Longell, who served in Afghanistan and is part of the GWOT Memorial Foundation. “I think that was a huge travesty to the memory of their service.”
That’s something they don’t want to see happen to current warfighters and veterans.
“Some of the guys I deployed with, that had been their fifth or sixth deployment,” said George Chewning, a foundation member who just finished five years of service in the Army. “To have a place for them to come and collectively heal with their battle buddies and friends, I think, is huge.”
“It’s a generational war, and we shouldn’t have to wait a generation to be able to have a place to remember those that responded to the greatest national tragedy and attack since Pearl Harbor,” Longell said. “I think that’s our goal here, to honor that service and sacrifice and to have the country remember those who volunteered. They weren’t drafted like in World War II or Vietnam; these are individuals who put their entire lives on hold and sacrificed a great deal to be able to respond appropriately to keep this country safe.”
In the next few years, the foundation will work on leaping two more hurdles: Raising funds for the project and securing sponsorship from Congress so it can start working with the National Capital Planning Commission and the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission.
It’s way too early to start thinking about designs just yet, but Brennan said they’ve gotten a lot of input from veterans so far, and they’ve come with a few themes to focus on:
- The all-volunteer aspect of those who have served.
- Multiculturalism: Service members dealing with unfamiliar cultures for extensive time periods.
- Endurance: Something symbolizing it being the nation’s longest war.
- The idea of being unfinished, since the war on terrorism may have no end.
If you have a lot of other questions – like where would the memorial go, and how would it adequately represent veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan, those fighting ISIL, or those fighting in Syria or somewhere else down the road – you’re not alone. Brennan reminded me they’re just at the beginning of the process. But he said they’ve got a lot of help from veteran advisors, including Jan Scruggs, the man responsible for getting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial built in 1982.
Brennan said Scruggs is pretty much the reason why the 1986 legislation was enacted. He got the Wall approved and built within three years – a feat that was possible because there was no regulation on how to apply for monument creation back then.
“Jan knows all the ins and outs – ideas on site location, design, who we need to talk to and how to raise money,” Brennan said. “He’s been an indispensable resource.”
He said the foundation is hoping to have a memorial built in eight to 10 years.
“What better way to help educate future generations of Americans about what this conflict was all about when we have something here on the mall amongst all the other war memorials?” Brennan said.
What do you think of the idea? Let us know in the comment section below!
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