Freshman Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.) was on the House floor when his colleague from the Illinois delegation, Rep. Mark Kirk (R), approached him with a chance to help an effort to erect a memorial for disabled veterans.
“Mark Kirk said, ‘This is really important to me’ … . He knew I was a veteran and thought it would be a good opportunity for me,” Hare recalled. (Hare served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1969 to 1975.)
In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed into law a bill authorizing the American Disabled Veterans Life Memorial Foundation to establish a monument to soldiers wounded in battle. The bill stipulated that no federal funds would be spent on the memorial, so the foundation would have to raise the necessary money — estimated at about
$65 million, according to foundation spokesman Victor Biggs — on its own through private donations. Biggs said the foundation has raised about two-thirds of the needed funds and should be done with fundraising by the end of 2008.
Without Congressional intervention, however, the foundation’s authorization to use the land set aside for the memorial — located on a wedge-shaped plot between Washington Avenue and Second Street Southwest near Capitol Hill — would expire next month. A bill introduced by Hare in February and passed in March would extend the authorization to 2015. The bill is currently awaiting a full Senate vote after being reported out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week.
According to a report by the National Capital Planning Commission that approved concept plans for the site, the memorial would feature a star fountain with a flame, a triangular reflecting pool, and marble and etched glass walls. The report adds that original plans for the site were altered slightly to allay some concerns expressed by the Architect of the Capitol and the Capitol Police. A Capitol Police spokeswoman declined to specify what security concerns prompted the changes. The concept plans also have been approved by the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts and the National Park Service.
Hare said he hopes visitors to the memorial will come away with a deeper understanding of the costs of war — not just in terms of the dead, but also the struggles faced by surviving veterans who return wounded or disabled.
“War is something more than 30 seconds on television,” Hare said. “It’s like in Vietnam. The newscaster would come on and say, ‘Sixteen dead and 40 wounded.’ Well, those are severe wounds, and we need to be aware of that.”
Hare added that the memorial project is especially important given the “current conflict” in Iraq, in which “a lot of veterans have lost an arm, a leg or both,” while others have suffered the loss of hearing or vision.
The memorial foundation was the brainchild of Arthur Wilson, the national adjutant of Disabled American Veterans; former Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown; and philanthropist Lois Pope. Brown became the foundation’s executive director in 1997 after stepping down as VA secretary; he died in 2002. Pope is a former Broadway singer and actress and is the widow of National Enquirer publisher Generoso Pope Jr.