How We Can Honor Our Vets Every Day

Caroline Cunningham

- Huffington Post
More than a year after he was paralyzed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, Army Spc. Eugene Perry Young has come home.
 
His return to Adairsville, Ga. late last month was met with a hero's welcome that made headlines across the country, as town residents, local businesses and even national retail chains donated time and money to make the house he and his wife wanted to buy wheelchair accessible.
 
With help from Home Depot, Habitat for Humanity, Anheuser-Busch and others, volunteers added ramps, widened doors, leveled floors, and installed a lift in the garage.
 
"With all the chaos going on in the world and all that, you still find good, honest people," Young said.
 
The story, while touching, shouldn't be altogether surprising or unusual. As a nation, we owe an innumerable debt of gratitude to the men and women who have sacrificed, suffered, and died to protect the freedoms we enjoy every day.
 
We should always be on the lookout for ways to help our veterans, particularly those who've suffered life-changing injuries.
 
Roughly 2.5 million Americans have served actively in the U.S. military since the September 11 terrorist attacks, including more than 52,000 who are officially listed by the Department of Defense as wounded in action and nearly a million who have filed disability claims stemming from these conflicts.
 
Veterans Day is an important time to look for ways we can support these brave men and women in our own communities. It's an opportunity for all of us to remember the sacrifices our fellow citizens have made on our behalf, and to shine a bright light on their needs.
 
That's why I'm excited about the Concert for Valor taking place on the National Mall this Veterans Day. Co-sponsored by Starbucks, HBO and Chase, with partners the Trust for the National Mall and the National Park Service, it's the first time a free concert has been performed on the Mall to honor our veterans and those now on active duty. The lineup will include Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Rihanna, Jessie J, Tom Hanks, Stephen Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Meryl Streep. If you can't make it out to the National Mall for the live show, it will also be available free on HBO to anyone with a cable connection.
 
As Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz so aptly put it, "The Concert for Valor represents a significant and historic opportunity to demonstrate our country's potential to come together as a nation, and do right by those who have done so much for us. They've stepped up. Now it's our turn."
 
The location of the concert is incredibly fitting, given the National Mall hosts 29 million visits each year from folks who come to see the majestic World War II memorial, the contemplative Korean War Veterans memorial, the somber Vietnam Veterans memorial, and the stately memorial to Abraham Lincoln, who led our country through the Civil War.
 
In truth, the entire National Mall is a tribute to those who have served. Telling the story of our country's origins, leaders and living history, the National Mall is a compelling outdoor classroom to educate future generations about the American values and ideals men and women have fought, and are fighting today, to preserve.
 
And yet, we have not kept our promise to the veterans whose sacrifices are honored on the National Mall.
 
The park's last significant renovation was nearly 40 years ago, and today this iconic landscape has some $400 million in deferred maintenance alone -- the result of hard fiscal times.
 
The Trust for the National Mall has been working to fill this funding gap by providing opportunities for business and private donors alike to lend a hand. To date, we've been able to repair and reopen the earthquake-damaged Washington Monument, fix the sinking sea wall at the Jefferson Memorial, rebuild the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and gain approval for designs to reimagine Constitution Gardens, the 38-acre space situated between the World War II and Vietnam Veterans memorials.
 
When President Woodrow Wilson established what later became Veterans Day in 1919, he declared that it should be "filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory."
 
How true. This Veterans Day, I hope you'll join me in ensuring this solemn pride for the heroism of our veterans like Young is preserved for years to come by investing in the future of the national park that honors their sacrifice.
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Caroline Cunningham is President of the Trust for the National Mall, which has provided support for The Concert for Valor.