This year is the 30th anniversary of the Wall, where America’s Vietnam veterans were finally welcomed home in 1982. It was a tad ironic that we had to build and fund our own memorial. I actually led the effort to have on the Mall in Washington the names of the nearly 60,000 service members who died or who were left Missing in Action in South East Asia. But once Congress approved the Memorial, it was designed, funded, and built in three years.
Now there is another mission. The veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan need a welcome home. Year after year these men and women have been sent to fight. But the fighting, it appears, is coming to a close at the end of 2014—the deadline chosen by the president and Congress to end combat operations in Afghanistan. These veterans deserve their own national memorial, but the draconian process of first getting Congressional consensus authorizing that memorial and then planning and building it will take decades, not years.
Let’s give the soldiers from our post-9/11 wars a prompt welcome home in 2014.
After consultation with Congress, we decided that the Education Center about to be erected would also honor our veterans who have served as part of the War on Terror. We will accomplish this through a dramatic display of Photos of the Fallen to honor all and to remember the more than 7,000 U.S. service members who have sacrificed their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.
We plan to begin this year, on Nov. 28, with a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Education Center at the Wall. America has lost about 7,000 men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 30,000 have been wounded. Along with the photos of the 58,282 Americans whose names are on the Wall, the Center will house a dramatic display of the fallen service members from our most recent wars, with their faces on large screens and new ones appearing every hour.
One day they will get their own memorial, but assessing the historical significance of what was achieved and agreeing to and building that memorial on or near the Mall or at Arlington Cemetery will take a decade or more. Until then the Education Center will do double duty as a place to honor the sacrifices of the last decade. The courage and character shown by our service members over 236 years will be remembered in the Center.
When the veterans of Vietnam returned, no one welcomed us home. Let’s give today’s service members a real welcome home in 2014. They deserve that, and a lot more. Help us. Help them. Let’s work together to get the job done.