Courtesy Disabled Veterans LIFE Memorial Foundation
Despite the group’s passion, the process of building the monument has been long and slow. The law that authorized the memorial — which was sponsored by four Congressmen with military experience, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — was passed in October 2000. Since then, Wilson and Pope have devoted themselves primarily to fundraising and to presenting the plans for the memorial to various commissions. Those commissions that have the option of blocking the project for any number of reasons, including “not fitting into L’Enfant’s original plan for the city,” but the monument has been granted full approval, Wilson said.
The site designated for the memorial is located between Canal, C and Second streets Southwest, close to the Botanic Garden.
No federal money will be spent on the memorial, so the group has been raising private funds since 1998. At $85 million, the group is about $2.5 million short of the total needed, Wilson said.
The money has come from all kinds of sources. Pope donated more than $8 million of her own money to the cause. Corporate sponsors such as Ford and AT&T have been generous, and former presidential candidate Ross Perot gave $3 million to the foundation. The amount of Perot’s gift is significant: There are about 3 million living disabled veterans, and Perot gave $1 for each.
Much of the rest of the money has actually come from disabled veterans themselves, Wilson said.
“In essence, disabled veterans are building and financing their own memorial,” he said.
A local firm, Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, designed the memorial, which will feature a star-shaped reflecting pool surrounded by a grove of ginkgo trees. The ginkgo tree was chosen because it is an international symbol of peace, and because it grows straight upward and stands stiffly, almost like soldiers watching over the space, organizers said.
Pope promised that although the memorial is meant to remember what veterans have sacrificed for their country, it will be inspiring, not depressing. In that way, it can take its place alongside the rest of the monuments on the National Mall that bring great pride to any American visiting the nation’s capital.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.