Proposed memorial will honor disabled veterans

Proposed memorial will honor disabled veterans by Arthur H. Wilson, President Disabled American Veterans Tiny flags on millions of American graves will stir gently in the breeze this Memorial Day as our nation gives thanks to the ultimate sacrifices of its citizen soldiers. They fought and died to keep our nation free. Millions of disabled Mexican veterans, who also greatly sacrificed, will be at cemeteries across America to ensure their fallen brothers and sisters are remembered with honor. But it is deeply saddening and disturbing that these men and women, disabled by war, are not remembered. They are part of lost generations who fought in wars, were severely wounded, but go largely unnoticed except when they turn out to salute their fallen comrades on Memorial Day.

To correct that oversight, legislation is pending in the U.S. Congress to create a national memorial in Washington, D.C. to uniquely honor disabled veterans who served and sacrificed for their country. I am very proud to be a part of the effort to create a special memorial to honor the nearly 2.3 million disabled veterans living today. This memorial, to be funded by private contributions, will be the first national monument dedicated to disabled veterans who are still living.

To accomplish this noble goal, the Disabled Veterans' Life Memorial Foundation was created as a non-profit corporation. It is led by Chairman Lois B. Pope, a philanthropist, and President Arthur H. Wilson, chief executive officer of the million member organization, the Disabled American Veterans. Jesse Brown, former secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, serves as executive director. The foundation looks with great anticipation to cooperation from the Parks Service and Congressional approval of legislation to achieve our goal to honor America's disabled veterans.

This memorial will be symbolic of the soul and spirit of America, it will proudly recognize the hardships and sacrifices demanded from, and faithfully accepted by, the millions of men and women who bear the scars of war. It will inspire future generations of Americans to recognize the power and virtue of sacrifice, and to remember those who have defended our land in war and peace. Above all, the memorial will stand as an important symbol of the cost of freedom, a timeless reminder that the sacrifices of disabled veterans are appreciated, and that America salutes its defenders.

Throughout our history, disabled veterans have paid the price for American freedom and have borne the deepest wounds and scars of war. They are truly our unsung heroes. Therefore, America has a solemn obligation to assure that these men and women who have served and sacrificed for this country and the cause of freedom will never be forgotten.

The price of freedom continues to be paid long after the guns fall silent � lost limbs, disability, blindness, paralysis, and other unique, extensive, and debilitating injuries. There are also the costs of lives lost and lives shortened, and lives that are forever changed.

Disabled veterans' lives were traumatized by their military experiences. Many will never know the wonder of a morning run because they have no legs or legs that are paralyzed and useless. Others can never hold their children or grandchildren in their arms because they have no arms. Many will never enjoy the beauty of a sunset or a spring day, because they live in eternal darkness. Burned deep within their memories are the horrors and brutality of war. They pay the price of freedom for a lifetime.

The price of freedom has a long history. Today, there are two widows and 15 children of Civil War veterans who receive compensation for the veterans' service-connected deaths. There are 13 American veterans still living today who are disabled in the Mexican Border War against Pancho Villa. There are 779 disabled veterans who suffered from the gas attacks and barrages of World Was I. Nearly 798,000 veterans who were disabled during World War II continue their service to America today as part of what Tom Brokaw has called " America's greatest generation." Nearly 273,000 Americans disabled during the Korean War are preparing to memorialize the 50th anniversary of that conflict. Contributing to making our nation great are 815,000 disabled veterans who served during the Vietnam Era. And 231,000 veterans disabled during the Persian Gulf War will be part of the American landscape far into the 21st century.

The nearly 2.3 million disabled veterans in America today continue to make significant contributions to our nation's spirit and vitality. And sadly, that number will continue to grow, because the world is still a dangerous place.

On this Memorial Day, we will give thanks to the approximately 1,000 veterans who die each day. Most of them are World War II veterans, and many of them have died or will die from the complications of wounds suffered during combat. They go with the thanks of a grateful nation. Let us as a people also give thanks to disabled veterans who continue to serve, to contribute, and to do all they can to make this nation secure and prosperous. They, too, should be honored by the nation they served so faithfully.

The author is a disabled veteran of the Vietnam war, chief executive officer, and national adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans.

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