- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

A memorial to honor disabled veterans is a step closer to reality after yesterday's vote by the National Capital Memorial Commission to approve a site on Capitol Hill.
"This shrine will provide a reminder of war's true human cost," said former Veteran Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown, whose right arm was partially paralyzed in 1965 when he was wounded as a Marine fighting in Vietnam.
"Sight of the memorial [from the Capitol] will remind our legislators and our citizens that the sacrifices of disabled veterans throughout our history paid the price of freedom here and abroad," Mr. Brown said from his wheelchair.
Philanthropist Lois Pope called the 2.2 million living but disabled veterans "unsung heroes" because they live on after dead companions are buried and memorialized.
The National Capital Memorial Commission voted unanimously to allow construction of a memorial on a triangular tract southwest of the Capitol.
The commission had considered six sites. Encouraged by District officials, the commission chose the tract on Second Street SW across Independence Avenue from the Botanic Gardens, and atop the Interstate 395 tunnel.
The memorial has not been designed, but supporters predict it will be completed by spring of 2005.
First, about $35 million must be raised. The fund-raising campaign will begin on the eve of Veterans Day, Nov. 11, when Mrs. Pope presents the Unsung Hero Award of 2001 to Rick Romley, whose legs were blown off by a mine in 1969 when he was a Marine fighting in Vietnam. Mr. Romley now is prosecuting attorney for Maricopa County in Arizona, the fourth most populous county in the nation.
"It's going to cost a lot of money," Mr. Brown said of the memorial. However, "November, Veterans Day, is a great period to kick off the fund-raiser."
Veterans Day originally was designated as Armistice Day, the day in 1918 when World War I officially ended.
The nation has 13 disabled living veterans from the 1916 war on the Mexican border, 779 from World War I, 798,000 from World War II, 273,000 from the Korean War, 815,000 from the Vietnam War and 213,000 from other conflicts.
In January, the National Capital Memorial Commission rejected proposals to build the disabled veterans memorial on the Mall. Proponents, in effect, were told to find a site on city property.
About the same time, officials were debating construction of a World War II memorial at the end of the Reflecting Pool between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, which the commission eventually approved.
The Commemorative Works Act of 1986 specified that only monuments with "pre-eminent historic and national significance," or monuments that highlight cornerstones of democracy, could be built on the Mall, the commission had said.
District officials "have been wonderful," said Robert L. Hansen, chief operating officer of the Disabled Veterans' Life Memorial Foundation.
"That's like a no-man's land right now," said Kenneth Laden, associate director of the D.C. Division of Transportation. He said the main problem of pedestrian traffic across Second Street and Independence Avenue to the memorial can be resolved.
"We do not want to have a memorial that would place pedestrians and visitors at risk," Mr. Laden said.
Mrs. Pope, widow of National Enquirer founder Generoso Pope, was instrumental in the campaign for the memorial. While performing on Broadway in the 1960s, Mrs. Pope said, she was shocked by the disabilities of veterans when she agreed to sing at a benefit at a New York medical school.
"It was a night I will never forget," Mrs. Pope said, recalling the sight of quadriplegics, amputees and other crippled veterans. "I prayed that I wouldn't cry," although, she added, "They were all smiling."
Mrs. Pope said she sang, "Somewhere," from the musical "West Side Story," with the verses, "There's a place for us, a time and place for us. Hold my hand and we're halfway there."
"But some of them didn't have hands to hold," Mrs. Pope said. "I cried after I left."
The memories haunted her through the death in Vietnam of a cousin. Mrs. Pope said she subsequently met Mr. Brown, who was in charge of Veterans Affairs from 1993 to 1997, and asked him, "Where is the memorial for the disabled veterans?"
When Mrs. Pope suggested establishing such a memorial, Mr. Brown said, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide