The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial

The fundamental freedoms and inalienable rights that we enjoy and celebrate this week are endowed to us by God freely, but securing that liberty comes only with great sacrifice. The many war memorials and national cemeteries here and across our nation attest to that human cost of freedom.

“We are grateful for the sacrifice so many in military service must make today and for the service offered in the past by veterans,” said the U.S. bishops in their pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response, 316 (1983), urging that “those sacrifices be mitigated so far as possible” (Id., 315-16).

General George Washington emphasized after the American Revolution “the obligations this country is under to that meritorious class of veteran non-commissioned officers and privates who have been discharged for inability…nothing could be a more melancholy and distressing sight, than to behold those who have shed their blood or lost their limbs in the service of their country” (Farewell Letter to the Army, June 8, 1783).

These words from General Washington are emblazoned as well on one of the granite walls of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, a place that conveys “a combination of strength and vulnerability, of loss and renewal,” striking at the visitor’s heart. It is the first national memorial dedicated to “paying tribute to the hidden and visible disabilities from all conflicts and all branches of service.”

Located near the Capitol, the memorial features a tree grove, reflecting pool, and etched glass panels upon which are images and quotations from those who have suffered and borne the deepest wounds and scars of war. For example, one disabled veteran poignantly expressed how, “It’s faith that gives you the strength to endure – faith that won’t allow you to give up, faith that manifests itself in a ferocious determination to take the next step – the one that everyone else says is impossible.” Another gave voice to those who continue to struggle, “Since the war, I’ve been confined to a wheelchair and have tried to live a good life. However, I relive the war every day.”

Suffering burdens of his own, one veteran said in words immortalized in glass, “I have a purpose in life, and that’s been to help other military families through some of what I had to go through. If I had to go through it myself in order to help others, I’m okay with that.” Those of us who have not personally suffered the agony of war have an obligation too to give hope and loving help to our disabled veterans and their families.

The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial is a place of somber reflection which should not be missed. It is also a summons to compassionate action.