First National Mall Memorial Honoring Disabled Vets Opens In D.C.

Quil Lawrence


The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial opens on Sunday, Oct. 5. It is the first monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. dedicated to severely wounded veterans of all the nation's wars.


Tomorrow, a new memorial will open on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. near the Capitol. It honors American veterans of all wars who were disabled for life. Organizers created it as a permanent reminder to the nation and to Congress just up the hill of the cost some veterans pay once war is over. NPR's Quil Lawrence got an early look at the memorial and sent this report.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: This summer, craftsmen put finishing touches on the memorial - a reflecting pool with flames leaving up from the water at one end. It's watered by granite walls, one inscribed with a line George Washington about the nation's obligation to (quote), " those who have shed their blood and lost their limbs in the service of this country." Washington wrote that in 1783. But it's taken 'til now for a monument to them.

GARY SINISE: There's obviously lots of national monuments to pay tribute to our fallen but never a tribute to honor the sacrifices of those who have given up parts of themselves in service to our country.

LAWRENCE: Actor Gary Sinise is a spokesman for the project. He's been a prominent advocate since he played a Vietnam veteran who lost both his legs in the movie "Forrest Gump." He says the fundraising and planning and construction for this memorial took nearly 20 years.

SINISE: This memorial was conceived prior to September 11. So none of us knew this was coming. And now it's especially meaningful because we have this entire new generation because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

LAWRENCE: But it was mostly Vietnam generation veterans who pushed for this new monument, like Dennis Joyner, former president of Disabled American Veterans.

DENNIS JOYNER: I was drafted in 1968. I was in Vietnam 32 days when I got hit. This past June 26 it was 45 years that I had been wounded in Vietnam. When the last bullet is shot and the war comes to a close, the war doesn't end for a huge segment of military personnel that served.

LAWRENCE: Joyner lost both his legs and one arm to a booby trap in the Mekong Delta. He's 66. He's been in a wheelchair since he was 21 years old. Now he's watching another generation come home.

JOYNER: One of the emptiest feelings that I've had since I come back with three limbs missing was the night that we first marched into Baghdad. I don't know, my heart just sunk. Here we go again. There's going to be those that are going to have to live a life like I've had to live my entire life with severe disabilities.

LAWRENCE: Joyner doesn't want Americans to forget the real cost of war. That cost is tallied both in lives and in dollars. A recent Harvard study found that the cost of caring for vets from the first and second world wars didn't peak until decades later when troops grew older. The cost of caring for Vietnam vets - that hasn't peaked yet.

ART WILSON: Right now we have almost 4 million disabled veterans living in this country. Countless millions have passed before us.

LAWRENCE: Art Wilson, also a Vietnam vet, is president of the foundation that built the memorial.

WILSON: To them to have a memorial of this nature that is right at the foot of the capital where the not only elected representatives but their staffs will be reminded every day that when you send people to war, this is what it's about.

LAWRENCE: Quil Lawrence, NPR News.