Through the juxtaposition of granite and glass, The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial conveys a combination of strength and vulnerability, loss and renewal.
At this sacred spot, all of us—sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, wives, husbands and friends—have the opportunity to learn the important lessons of courage, sacrifice, tenacity, loyalty and honor by bearing witness to the experiences of our heroes who are disabled.
The focal point of the Memorial is a star-shaped fountain, its surface broken only by a single ceremonial flame. A grove of trees stands sentry beside the reflecting pool, signifying the persistence of hope.
Dedicated to both the living and the deceased—a setting for coming together or quiet meditation—the Memorial holds a special place in the hearts of all Americans, and serves as a never-ending reminder to all of the cost of human conflict.
It all began in 1997. Lois Pope, a prominent philanthropist with a strong interest in veterans’ causes, contacted Jesse Brown, then Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the Clinton Administration. In turn, Jesse put Lois in touch with Art Wilson, National Adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans. Lois indicated that she wanted to sit down with Art to discuss the many issues facing disabled veterans and their families. During their initial meeting, Lois mentioned that she had noticed all the different memorials around the city. She then asked Art the question that became the inspiration: “Where is it in Washington D.C. that we honor disabled veterans with a memorial?” Art’s answer: “There isn’t one.” Lois’ response: “We need to change that.”
Several months later Jesse, Art and Lois met together to discuss the idea of honoring disabled veterans with a memorial in Washington, D.C. This memorial would be designed to pay tribute to all disabled veterans, past, present and future, who have served or will serve in our nation’s military forces. Knowing they would need authorization from Congress in order to build a memorial, they formed a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization, and The Disabled Veterans’ Life Memorial Foundation, Inc. was born. The initial volunteer Board of Directors of the Foundation included Lois Pope, Chairman, and Art Wilson, President, and two additional volunteer members who were brought aboard for their tireless advocacy and leadership on veteran issues: from California, Ken Musselmann, Director; and from South Dakota, Gene Murphy, Treasurer. Secretary Jesse Brown was the Foundation’s first Executive Director.
All memorials in Washington are subject to the rigid standards of the U.S. Commemorative Works Act [40 USC Chapter 89 – National Capital Memorials and Commemorative Works]. Because the Act limits commemorative works honoring “… individuals or groups of individuals … until after the 25th anniversary of the death of the last surviving member of the group,” this Memorial, which specifically included living disabled veterans, required a special amendment to the Act. The Act proscribes a rigorous process – “24 Steps for Establishing a Memorial in the Nation’s Capital” – which begins with authorization by the U.S. Congress.
After establishing the Foundation, Lois, Art and Jesse worked together to draft legislation to present before Congress. The final draft was introduced to Congress in October of 1998, and co-sponsored by Senators John McCain (AZ) and Max Cleland (GA), and Representatives Sam Johnson (TX) and John Murtha (PA). It requested that Congress “authorize the DVLMF to establish a memorial on Federal lands in the District of Columbia or its environs to honor veterans who became disabled while serving in the U.S. armed forces.” Lois, Art and Jesse made numerous trips to Capitol Hill to promote the Memorial mission with legislators, and everyone they met with had the same response: they embraced the idea and were committed to getting it moved through committee and approved. Finally, on October 24, 2000, it was signed into law by President Clinton and became Public Law 106-348.
With the law in place, the Foundation focused on the vital challenges of the “24 Step” process:
• Create broad public awareness of the Memorial and its mission;
• Develop fundraising programs to secure the necessary financial support from individuals, corporations and organizations (Public Law 106-348 specifically stated that no Federal funds would be provided for the Memorial);
• Select a site for the Memorial;
• Convene a Design Competition and select the Memorial designer.
Over the ensuing years, the Foundation successfully executed each of the “24 Steps” leading to the planned dedication of The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in October 2014. After dedication, the Memorial will be transferred to the National Park Service with its mission fulfilled.
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It’s not very often that an architect has the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy in a prominent, public setting. But that is precisely what happened to Michael Vergason, of Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, based in Alexandria, Virginia.
On Veterans Day in 2002, the Disabled Veterans’ Life Memorial Foundation launched a design competition for The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. Twenty renowned architecture and landscape architecture firms were invited to participate. Michael Vergason Landscape Architects was selected the following July, based on the design concept that is now coming to life within sight of the U.S. Capitol.
Vergason, whose work can also be seen at the National Cathedral, the U.S. Supreme Court, Monticello, the U.S. Cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, and his alma mater, the University of Virginia, envisioned a hallowed place amid the bustle of the surrounding Washington streets. His design was meant expressly for its audience – disabled veterans, their loved ones and caretakers – who would now have a place for commemoration and quiet reflection within a grove of trees framed by granite and glass walls, punctuated by a ceremonial flame and a reflecting pool.
This approach to design is a hallmark of Vergason’s firm. Every project is process driven, beautifully detailed and seamlessly integrated into existing conditions, deriving inspiration from the uniqueness of a place and defining the salient characteristics throughout the seasons. Founded on the belief that landscape is a poetic, humanizing discipline responding to the fundamental human need for connection to the surrounding world, Michael Vergason Landscape Architects designs lasting places through the creative and rigorous study of the site and its context.
Given this guiding philosophy, the Memorial’s physical and symbolic centerpiece is a star-shaped fountain, embedded into a broad reflecting pool. Used throughout American history to honor, recognize, reward and represent our highest aspirations, this strong focal point structures the site. At its center, the ceremonial flame – the fire – embodies the elemental forces of injury, loss and renewal, and emerges from the water as a reminder of the hope that springs from perseverance in the face of adversity.
And then, standing sentry-like alongside the reflecting pool, are a grove of trees to provide dappled shade and comfort along the Memorial’s main paths. These paths are lined by the glass and granite walls of Vergason’s design, each representing the strength and fragility of the human spirit.
Experienced all together, these elements create a unique and respectful setting to reflect on – and honor – the great sacrifices of America’s disabled veterans…yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Read more about the design elements at the following links:
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The American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial will mean many things for many people, especially the individuals personally touched by disability, their comrades and their families and friends.
These short summaries are excerpted from longer recollections by three members of the Board of Directors of the Disabled Veteran’s Life Memorial Foundation, Inc. You can read their full essays by clicking on this link.
Dennis Joyner – Secretary | US Army, 9th Infantry Division, Bronze Star and Purple Heart
Mr. Joyner served in the U.S. Army, 9th Infantry Division, in Vietnam. While on patrol in June 1969 in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, he became a triple amputee due to a land mine explosion.
Finally, a Memorial that will recognize and remember the lives of pain and suffering that I and my fellow disabled veterans have had to endure. A Memorial that stands to honor the sacrifices forced upon my parents, my wife and my children. A Memorial that will remove those haunting words I relive every day that I screamed on the jungle floor of the Mekong Delta in South Vietnam, “Let Me Die,” as I visualized the loss of both my legs and my arm. Finally, a sense of satisfaction knowing what I gave, and my family and I continue to give, will be forever remembered.
REMEMBER….the sound of my cries and visualize the loss of both of my legs and my arm as I lay wounded on the jungle floor in South Vietnam.
REMEMBER….the sound of my mother and father’s hesitant footsteps on the wooden floor of the Army Hospital the first time they came to visit me.
REMEMBER….the pain and suffering that I and so many other disabled veterans endure for our FREEDOM.
REMEMBER….as you stand view the American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial, we did it for you.
Finally, a Memorial that provides me a place to reflect back on my life as a disabled veteran.
Hearing my mother so often talk about the fear she had within as she walked through the hall of Valley Forge Army Hospital on her way to see me for that first time after losing my legs and arm. Being told how my father angrily responded that I would be fine after a friend told him it was a shame what happened to me. And after being excited to receive artificial legs at age 21, only to later realize I would be more mobile living my life in a wheelchair. And what did my adult son mean when he told my wife to keep an eye on our daughter because being my father’s child is not easy?
Yes, this is my Memorial for me to reflect and remember my life as one who gave three limbs defending the freedoms we so dearly cherish and for all those who live it with me.
It is a Memorial that will provide those whose lives haven’t been affected by the ongoing consequences war causes to understand that war, for some, lasts a lifetime.
Diane Musselmann – Director | Widow of Kenneth G. Musselman – Director, U.S. Army, Co. B 46th Infantry, 198th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, and received both the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Kenneth Musselmann served with the U.S. Army Americal Division in Vietnam where a land mine explosion and gunshot wounds resulted in the amputation of both his legs.
This Memorial means reaching a dream of Kenny’s. It means remembering all the sacrifices that so many have made and have gone unnoticed by our country. Soldiers are injured and life goes on, except, life is never the same. Whether you can see someone’s disability or not, the pain never leaves. The day the Memorial is dedicated, my family and I will be there to represent Kenny and stand for him. I know he will be standing proud, too.
Roberto “Bobby” Barrera – Director | U.S. Marine Corps, Purple Heart Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal and Combat Action Ribbon.
Mr. Barrera enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in February 1969 and while serving in Vietnam, he was seriously burned when enemy forces exploded a 500-pound land mine beneath his armored personnel carrier.
The Memorial is a direct reflection of my journey of the last forty-four years. Initially, I asked a question common to many disabled veterans, “Why me God?” I experienced a lot of anger at not having an answer to that question. I suffered. My family suffered. I needed some purpose as to my existence. Through love and compassion my anger was transformed into hope. That hope became a spirit of service. Through service to others I found my purpose in life. This Memorial is my country’s gift to me, a gift of that same love and compassion that nurtured me and carried me during the darkest period of my life. This Memorial is a reflection of who I am today. It is a Memorial of healing. It is a Memorial of hope. It is a Memorial of service, a Memorial of my service to my country.
The ‘Force Majeure’ Behind The Memorial
There are two chance encounters that planted the seeds of what later germinated into the inspiration for The American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial.
The first occurred in the 1960’s when Lois Pope, a former Broadway singer and TV Commercial model, visited injured Vietnam War veterans recovering at a hospital in New York, and when she reached out to take the hand of a wounded soldier as she sang ‘Somewhere‘ from ‘West Side Story‘, she discovered he didn’t have one. It was a stark, shocking moment that brought home the horrors of war to a young woman who described herself as ‘naive’ and ‘clueless’ up ’til then.
The second occurred many years later as Lois Pope visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., when she observed a disabled veteran in a wheelchair. She asked a park ranger where the memorial for disabled veterans was. “There isn’t one”, he answered.
Those two chance encounters combined to set in motion what would become a 16 year journey to make the Memorial a reality. Mrs. Pope and her Foundations, established from her inheritance after the death of her husband Generoso Pope, Jr., the founder of the National Enquirer, contributed over $10 million to the project and helped to raise another $80 million to underwrite the costs of getting legislation approved, and then designing and constructing the Memorial.
These many years later, her determination culminates in today’s dedication and she hopes the Memorial provokes “thinking and thanking” and that its location, close to the Capitol Building, makes lawmakers “think twice” about the human cost of war.
President Barack Obama, left, is presented a plaque by philanthropist Lois Pope, right, and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, during the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial dedication ceremony in Washington, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014.
President Obama paid tribute to disabled U.S. veterans on Sunday, pointing to the dedication of a new memorial honoring those severely injured in war as a symbol of the nation’s perseverance and character.
(Photo:wwlp.com/AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Lois Pope addresses the 2014 Disabled American Veterans & DAV Auxiliary National Convention
President Obama Dedicates New Memorial To Disabled Veterans
(WASHINGTON) U.S. President Barack Obama paid tribute to disabled American veterans, living and deceased, from all conflicts as he participated in the dedication of The American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial in Washington, D.C. .
“America . . .”, he told the audience of over 3,000 people – many of them wounded and disabled veterans, “if you want to know what real strength is, if you want to see the character of our country, a country that never quits, look at these men and women.”
The President said the memorial would commemorate two centuries of Americans who have stepped forward to serve, leaving loved ones behind, and who returned home forever altered by war.
Mr. Obama said, “This memorial is a challenge to all of us, a reminder of the obligations this country is under. If we are to truly honor these veterans we must heed the voices that speak to us here. Let’s never rush into war, because it is America’s sons and daughters who bear the scars of war for the rest of their lives. “Let us only send them into harm’s way when it’s absolutely necessary.”
The dedication, Sunday, October 5th, was the culmination of 16 years of lobbying, fundraising and bureaucratic maneuvering by philanthropist Lois Pope, the late former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jesse Brown and former CEO and national adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans organization Art Wilson. Mrs. Pope contributed $10 million of the more than $80 million raised and started a Foundation to shepherd the Memorial through the daunting evolution from an idea to a U.S. law enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, and, ultimately, the finished site comprised of stone, glass, bronze, symbolic trees and a granite star- shaped fountain with a ceremonial flame and reflecting pool.
It is located behind the U.S. Botanic Garden near the Rayburn House Office Building with a kitty corner view to the U.S. Capitol Building as seen in the following watercolor rendering by the firm of Michael Vergason Landscape Architects in Alexandria, Virginia, which submitted the chosen design.
Disabled Veterans Advocate, Actor Gary Sinise Speaks At Memorial
(WASHINGTON) You may know him best for his indelible portrayal of disabled veteran Lt. Dan Taylor in the 1994 movie Forrest Gump, but in real life, actor Gary Sinise has used that ‘claim to fame’ as a springboard to be an outspoken advocate of veterans’ issues.
In his most recent role as National Spokesman for The American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial, he has traveled from coast to coast across the United States raising awareness about the Memorial and helping to raise funds.
Today, Sunday, October 5, 2014, his efforts, and those of the Board of Directors of the Disabled Veterans’ Life Memorial Foundation saw the fruition of their efforts at the dedication of the Memorial.
THE HISTORY OF THE MEMORIAL
This video was produced as an overview of the 16 year journey to bring the tribute to fruition, and, as an invitation to the official dedication ceremony of October, 5, 2014.
AMERICAN VETERANS DISABLED FOR LIFE MEMORIAL
This video was produced to raise awareness about the proposed Memorial and to solicit donations to help with the funding of it.
GARY SINISE CHAMPIONS THE MEMORIAL ON ‘FACE THE NATION’
This video was produced in August as actor Gary Sinise, the official spokesman of the American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial is interviewed for the CBS program ‘Face The Nation’.