Say it in stone

Memorials on the National Mall are important for our nation.  It’s not only a place of honor and remembrance for those who gave their lives, but also for those who served and survived the war.  When you visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, you will often see objects left by its wall.  It’s a place of memory for Veterans to visit, a place for them to think about those they lost in war.  You will see these objects and wonder what the significance is of leaving these items behind.  We who have served understand this.  It’s our way of saying, “hello,” “I miss you,” “I remember you,” “you are still alive in my memory,” “you will always be here with me.”  This is the purpose of a memorial:  it’s for the living to remember and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.

These memorials are also for tourists, students, and families visiting Washington, D.C.   They are a reminder that there is a cost of freedom and there is a very heavy cost of war.  It is a solemn reminder to all citizens that war is not to be entered into lightly.  We must expend every diplomatic effort that is available before we enter into a war.  My final tour of duty as a naval officer was in the White House.  I worked in the White House Military Office in the East Wing for both the Bush and Obama administrations.  During this time one of my responsibilities was to arrange meetings with the President and families of the fallen.  It was always a very difficult and solemn duty for me to bring in these families to meet the President.  It was a constant reminder that there is a severe cost of war.  Seeing the pain of loss is difficult; seeing it in a grieving mother, father or spouse is excruciating.  The families, I felt, took great comfort in having their son’s or daughter’s Commander in Chief personally comfort them in their time of loss.  Having met so many of them through the years has given me even more motivation to build this memorial now.  They need a place to go to grieve.  The entire country needs a place to honor these brave men and women.

Following my Navy career, I worked at Fisher House Foundation.  Fisher House Foundation builds comfort homes at military and veteran’s medical centers.  These are places for families to stay at no cost while their loved ones are in the hospital.  I spent a lot of time meeting families that were staying at these homes.  Many of them were parents and spouses of wounded warriors receiving treatment at major military hospitals like Walter Reed in Bethesda, Maryland, and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.  Many of these wounded warriors had lost limbs and were in the process of healing, recovering, and finally adjusting to their new prosthetics.  The physical recovery and adjustment to using a new prosthetic is a grueling, years-long experience.  Many of these families were in Fisher Houses for more than six months at a time.  I got to know the families and the men and women in recovery.   Almost without fail, these wounded warriors would tell me they wanted to return to their unit.  The feeling of comradery and devotion to those you serve with is eternal.  It’s a bond that is difficult to explain but we all feel it.  This is another reason why this memorial is so important.

The only place for this memorial is the National Mall, alongside the other war memorials.  The time is now to build.  We cannot wait for decades like we did for the nation’s World War II memorial.  This generation of warriors need a place to visit.  They need a place to drop off a remembrance of their friend, a place to call their own, a place to say hello.

The families of the fallen need know that the nation cares enough about their service and sacrifice that we have built a monument for them.  I think this is incredibly important for all us as Americans.  We need this monument to say thank you for your service and sacrifice.  As Americans we all patriotically say ‘thank you for your service’ whenever we see a uniformed service member.  That’s always easy to say and welcome to hear from someone who has served.

Let’s say it in stone.

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