Honoring the Sacrifice

The new American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, honoring all types of veterans
with disabilities, is open just in time for
Veterans Day.

An idea popped up at a small meeting between Lois Pope and Art Wilson in 1997.

Washington, D.C., had a memorial for all sorts of veterans — Vietnam, World War II, Korean War — but there was one group left out.

Pope asked Wilson, “Where is it in Washington, D.C., that we honor disabled veterans with a memorial?”

“There isn’t one,” Wilson said.

“We need to change that,” said Pope.

And they did. Seventeen years, lots of hard work and many generous donations later the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial has opened in Washington, D.C., in time to be visited for Veterans Day.

The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial sits at 2nd Street and Washington Ave. in Washington, D.C.

Setting the Foundation

Memorial co-founders Pope and Wilson put together a board and set out to raise funds, hire contractors and create the design. Gene Murphy was one of the original members on that board.

Murphy was injured in Vietnam. Two bullets through his right side caused a L-4/5 spinal-cord injury. Since then he’s been an advocate for veterans, particularly veterans with disabilities, as an active member of Disabled American Veterans and the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

He was made treasurer on the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial board in 1997 and has now seen the memorial go from being an idea on paper to coming to fruition.

“I feel super that, hey, we’ve completed our project and this is going to be available to all veterans,” Murphy says. “I’m just really overwhelmed that all the American people and the veterans and the veterans’ organizations would step forward and donate dollars to provide the funding to complete the job.”

The memorial wouldn’t have been possible without the fundraising, something Dennis Joyner helped with as well when he joined the board as secretary in 2008. Joyner says, at times, he worried whether they were going to be able to get the money they needed, but was touched by everyone who donated.

“I think the thing that has amazed me is the number of people … [who] want to be part of it and help raise the funds, make donations, etc.,” Joyner says. “… Somebody would write in and say, ‘I don’t have a lot, but I know my disabled husband who passed away would want to be a part of building this memorial.’ And they might send a dollar or two dollars or something.”

Making a Statement

The memorial occupies a 2.4-acre triangle just off Interstate 395 between 2nd Street and Washington Avenue in Washington, D.C.

The center of it all is a star-shaped reflecting pool featuring a ceremonial flame to honor the 4 million living veterans with disabilities, as well as those who are no longer with us. The whole site is entirely accessible all the way up to the grove of trees next to the pool where a special material was used that allows both water to flow through and wheelchairs to easily roll over the surface.

Other features around the pool include stone carvings, bronze sculptures and the most meaningful to Joyner, glass panels featuring pictures and quotes from veterans with disabilities.

“These are all everyday individuals that fought a war and a statement was made by them as a reminder … As many [panels] that are there, that’s a representation of all the different sacrifices,” Joyner says. “There’s one on there, it’s a child pushing his dad in a wheelchair. It hits all, the whole gauntlet of life, basically.”

Joyner, like Murphy, was also injured in Vietnam. He lost both legs and his left arm because of an exploding land mine and now uses a wheelchair for mobility.

Being veterans with disabilities themselves, the memorial holds a lot of personal significance.

“It just honors all the sacrifices that have been made by not only disabled veterans who may have been physically wounded like I was, or who may have wounds that you don’t really see such as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) or maybe something internal, etc.,” Joyner says. “So you know it’s going to honor the service and the sacrifice that all those disabled veterans have dealt with basically for their entire life after they were injured in service — and it’s not just the disabled veteran, it’s the family.”

Murphy visits D.C. about four times a year. Once a year he goes to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to visit and honor his 12 friends on the wall. He says this new memorial will also get an annual visit.

“[The memorial is] one of a kind. It’s the first that honors the disabled vets. We have many memorials in Washington and I‘ve been to all of them, but I think this is going to be one of the very unique ones,” Murphy says.

“ … It’s very personal to me that we’re building a memorial for again, not only living disabled vets, but we’re looking at past disabled vets. You know, it pays tribute to, I feel, some of our nations most courageous heroes from conflicts of both the past and the present.”

Marking History

The memorial was dedicated Oct. 5 and turned over to the National Park Service.

Although no events after the dedication were planned at press time, Murphy and Joyner think the memorial holds potential for future ceremonies on Independence Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and more. Until then, sitting just down the road from the Capitol, the board hopes the memorial can serve as a constant reminder of veterans’ issues to Congress.

“It’s a reminder to Congress that there’s a human cost of war and again, the need to support American veterans from the Congress,” Murphy says.

Aside from honoring veterans with disabilities and their families, a place for ceremonies and remembrance and serving as a reminder to Congress, the memorial holds historical importance and a learning opportunity for younger generations.

“I hope it’s a history lesson and I hope it’s a place that all people will see and understand, get a better understanding of the cost of war. I mean, when the final bullet is fired and the final troop leaves the battlefield and comes home, the war doesn’t end for a lot. It just begins a lifetime of it.” Joyner says. “ … [The memorial is] going to be a reminder that these disabled veterans are living their lives with a disability, that disabled veterans and their families are dealing with a disability for the rest of their lives due to their service for the country.”

For more information, visit avdlm.org.


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