By Jennifer Ballou
On June 24, 2010, my husband, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Edwardo “Eddie” Loredo, became the victim of an improvised explosive device (IED) attack while serving with his unit in Jelawar, Afghanistan. For any military spouse, the prospect of your worst nightmare coming true is always present. I knew this better than most: at the time of Eddie’s death, I too was an active-duty service member in Afghanistan.
While my story as a Gold Star family member may be relatively unique, one thing binds all Gold Stars together: the desire to commemorate our fallen loved ones. Fortunately, the steady development of a Global War on Terrorism Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. means that we will all soon have a place to honor our heroes, heal, be empowered, and unite—on Memorial Day and every day of the year.
Eight years ago, a group of passionate veterans, military spouses, and civic-minded Americans formed the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation. Our mission has always been focused on a single goal: building a Memorial to honor all who have served and sacrificed in the Global War on Terrorism launched after 9/11, which includes U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other theaters. The achievement of any worthy goal in life is hard, and the road to the Memorial has not been perfectly straight.
But the steps of progress the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation has experienced should give heart to all who are invested in its construction. Bipartisan support from the For Country Caucus (FCC) on Capitol Hill, today co-chaired by Army veteran Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) and Navy veteran Rep. Anthony Gonzales (R-TX), was instrumental in helping us secure the right to construct a Memorial in the Reserve area of the National Mall in December 2021. This means the Memorial will be where it belongs: right beside many of America’s most prominent war memorials. More recently, FCC members Crow, Mike Gallagher (R-WI), and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) joined us in March 2022 to promote the Memorial’s construction with a ruck march across the National Mall. Other supporters such as Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough; the cosponsors of our legislation in the Senate, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH); and Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) also participated in the ruck.
Crucially, this year the FCC has written letters in support of the Memorial to the various authorities regulating the use of federal land in our nation’s capital. These shows of support have paid off. This year we have achieved preliminary approvals from the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission, the Commission of Fine Arts, and the National Capital Planning Commission to keep moving ahead with our plans. Currently, we are preparing for the Memorial to be located on a plot of land near the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall. These victories have moved the Foundation into the design phase of the 24-step process required for building a memorial in Washington, D.C. Accordingly, we recently revealed a set of world-renowned architectural and landscape design firms as finalists to design the Memorial. In consultation with a panel of distinguished architectural and design leaders known as our Designer Advisory Board, the Foundation hopes to choose the firm best suited to lead this process this summer.
I often like to call the Memorial “a memorial of firsts.” Unlike past war memorials, this is one that will commemorate the service and sacrifice of those who have served in a war that is still ongoing—and is likely to continue for many years. Thus, it is perhaps the only war memorial to ever pay tribute to future heroes. The Memorial will also reflect the unique, multigenerational nature of the Global War on Terrorism—mothers and fathers who went to war in the wake of 9/11 have seen their children deploy to the same places they did. Additionally, unlike memorials such as the World War II Memorial, the Global War on Terrorism Memorial will be built well within the natural lifespans of many of those who have previously served in the conflict. Its speedy construction gives comfort to Gold Star families, veterans, and non-uniformed personnel who served in the GWOT that they will have a place to gather and reflect while they are still alive.
Finally, the Memorial will also be crucial for Gold Star children. In the years since Eddie’s death, I married my husband Omari, who also served in the Global War on Terrorism. In addition to raising our own daughter, Sophia, he has helped me raise my children Alexis and Eddie. While Alexis has some memories of Edwardo, Eddie, who was only two when his father died, has none. This Memorial will be a place to help them both bond to the man who loved them with all his heart, but whose life was taken much too soon. My kids are just a tiny fraction of the thousands of Gold Star children across the country whom the Memorial will bless. Just as importantly, all Americans longing for a place to contemplate the generational sacrifices made for security and freedom should take heart that your hopes are being fulfilled by the day.
Retired U.S. Army Master Sergeant Jennifer Ballou served nearly 21 years in the U.S. Army. She currently serves as the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation’s Gold Star Fellow.