Sixteen years in the making,the 2.4-acre park pays tribute to the millions of American veterans living with permanent disabilities.
Stone benches and four large metal silhouettes contrast with 48 glass panels etched with photographs and inspirational quotes.
“In war there are no unwounded soldiers,” the monument reads.
Light and shadow play with glass and stone,and a nearby reflecting pool leads to a star-shaped fountain. An emblem of a U.S. military branch lies at each point,and a flame burns in the heart of the star.
Many spoke at the dedication,and they all recognized the wounded warriors in attendance as the guests of honor.
Philanthropist Lois Pope,chairman of the Disabled Veterans Life Memorial Foundation,said about 4 million disabled veterans live in the U.S. She said she was shocked when she learned 16 years ago that there was no memorial devoted to them.
“The cost of war does not end when the guns are silenced,” Pope said. “For too long,they’ve been unsung heroes.”
More than a million individual donors contributed to the memorial fund. Many of them were disabled veterans themselves,Pope said.
Actor Gary Sinise,famous for his portrayal of a Vietnam veteran who lost both legs in the movie “Forest Gump,” has been working with the Disabled American Veterans organization for 20 years,spending the last eight as the national spokesman for the memorial.
He said he learned about the struggles of returning Vietnam veterans when he was young,and he was ashamed of the way they were treated.
“If we do not remember our defenders,our heroes,how can we expect future generations to step up to serve,” he said.
He said when he was injured he wanted to die. But his commanding officer wouldn’t let him,and he had a family at home to live for.
“I have been blessed to pick up the pieces from that day in Vietnam and live a life of fulfillment,” Joyner said,emphasizing the importance of the support of family and friends.
President Barack Obama said the country’s disabled veterans are symbols of American strength and of “a country that never quits.”
Obama spoke of the two battles that disabled veterans have fought and that the battle to recover can be as difficult as any war. The president told the stories of real veterans and referred to the many names PTSD has had over time,such as shell shock,battle fatigue and the thousand-yard stare.
He ended his speech with a specific edict: “If you’re an American,and you see a veteran,maybe with a prosthetic arm or leg,maybe burns on their face,don’t ever look away. Do not turn away.
“You go up and you reach out,and you shake their hand,and you look them in the eye,and you say those words every veteran should hear all the time: ‘Welcome home,thank you. We need you more than ever. You help us stay strong,you help us stay free.’”
Reach reporter Wesley Juhl at [email protected] or 202-408-1491. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.