WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2014 – With the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, the nation commemorates for the first time the two battles disabled veterans have fought — the battle “over there” and the battle at home — the battle to recover, President Barack Obama said today during the dedication ceremony.
Congress approved the building of the memorial with the passage of Public Law 106-348. In October 2000 President Bill Clinton signed the federal legislation into law, authorizing the Disabled Veterans’ LIFE Memorial Foundation Inc. to establish the memorial.
The foundation was created to educate the public on issues related to disabled veterans. The memorial will provide a place of healing and unity and a point of education for remembering disabled veterans after their wars are over.
A moment that shapes a lifetime
“To all our disabled veterans, our extraordinary wounded warriors, we gather … on this gorgeous autumn day in America because each of you endured a moment that shaped the arc of your lives and that speaks to our debt as a nation,” Obama told those gathered for the dedication.
“Maybe it was there on the battlefield as the bullets and shrapnel rained down around you. Maybe it was as you lay there, the medics tending to your wounds. Perhaps it was days or months later, in that hospital room when you finally came to. Perhaps it was years later as you went about your day, or in the midnight hour when the memories came rushing back like a flood,” the president said.
“Wherever you were, whatever your story,” Obama continued, “it was the moment that binds each of you forever, that moment of realization that life would not be the same. Your foot, your hand, your arm, your leg — maybe both — your sight, your peace of mind; a part of you was gone.”
The president said that it was a great honor to be with those who made the memorial possible, naming Lois Pope, Art Wilson and everyone at the memorial foundation and the veterans service organizations, especially those at the Disabled American Veterans; to the architects and craftspeople who helped bring the memorial to life; members of Congress, secretaries Jewell and McDonald; distinguished guests; and most of all to the veterans and their families.
For more than two centuries, Americans have left everything they have known and loved and stepped forward to serve, the president said.
“To win our independence, to preserve our Union, to defend our democracy, to keep safe this country that we love. And when the guns fall silent, our veterans return home, ready to play their part in the next chapter of our American story,” he added.
“As a nation, we have not always fulfilled our obligations to those who served in our name,” Obama said. “This is a painful truth and few have known this better than our veterans wounded in war.”
The president described how in the first years after the American revolution, when the young nation still resisted the idea of a standing army, veterans of the Continental Army returned to towns that could be indifferent to their service.
After the Civil War and again after the First World War, he said, disabled veterans had to organize and march for the benefits they had earned.
A vow to do better
Down the decades the nation has worked to do better, Obama added, “Because in the United States of America, those who have fought for our freedom should never be shunned and should never be forgotten.”
With this memorial, the nation takes another step forward, he said.
“You walk these quiet grounds, pause by the pictures of these men and women, you look into their eyes, read their words, and we’re somehow able to join them on a journey that speaks to the endurance of the American spirit. And to you, our veterans and wounded warriors, we thank you for sharing your journey with us,” Obama said.
At the memorial the nation can see the perseverance of disabled veterans, he added.
“Your unyielding faith that tomorrow can be better. Your relentless determination, often through years of hard recovery and surgeries and rehab, learning the simple things all over again — how to button a shirt, or how to write your name, in some cases how to talk or how to walk,” the president said, “and how when you’ve stumbled, when you’ve fallen, you’ve picked yourself up, you’ve carried on, you’ve never given up.”
No matter which war the disabled veterans served in and whether one effect of the war was called shell shock or battle fatigue or the thousand-yard stare or post-traumatic stress, Obama added, “You know the unseen wounds of war are just as real as any other, and they can hurt just as much, if not more.”
No veteran is alone
At the memorial the nation is reminded that no disabled veteran has made the journey alone, he added.
“Beside each of you is a wife or a husband, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and neighbors and friends who, day after day, year after year, have been there, lifting you up, pushing you further, rooting you on,” the president said.
Obama told the story of retired Army Capt. Dawn Halfaker, whose Humvee was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq and she suffered burns and broken bones, lost her right arm, and struggled physically and emotionally.
“But with the help of her fellow wounded warriors she came to focus … and today what she has is the respect of her fellow veterans that she mentors, a business of her own — one that hires veterans, and a beautiful 6-month-old son.”
Obama asked Halfaker to stand, and as she did the audience broke into applause. And he asked the veterans in the audience to stand or raise their hands, and the audience continued to cheer.
“America,” Obama said, “if you want to know what real strength is, if you want to see the character of our country, a country that never quits, look at these men and women.
‘Let us never rush into war’
From this day forward, he added, Americans will come to this place and ponder the immense sacrifice made on their behalf so they might live in freedom and peace.
“And if we are to truly honor these veterans, we must heed the voices that speak to us here, the president said.
“Let’s never rush into war, because it is America’s sons and daughters who bear the scars of war for the rest of their lives. Let us only send them into harm’s way when it’s absolutely necessary,” he said to a burst of applause.
“If we do, let’s always give them the strategy, the mission, and the support that they need to get the job done. When the mission is over … let us stand united as Americans and welcome our veterans home with the thanks and respect they deserve,” Obama added.
And if they come home having left a part of themselves on the battlefield on our behalf, the president added, the nation must move heaven and earth to make sure they get every benefit, every bit of care they have earned and deserve.
“To every wounded warrior, to every disabled veteran,” Obama said, “thank you.