With Veterans Day come familiar refrains of “thank you for your service,” “support the troops,” “honor those who served,” and more at picnics, stadiums, and event halls across the country. As veterans, we appreciate these sentiments and the spirit of patriotism in which they’re given, but we wouldn’t be the first to note that too often our country does not follow through on those words of support.
This year could be different. Congress has a rare chance to deliver, at least in part, on Americans’ pledges of support for veterans and servicemembers. Led by Representatives Jason Crow and Mike Gallagher, we have been working for years now on the final step necessary to build a memorial to American servicemembers who lost their lives in the Global War on Terrorism on the National Mall. We’re at the 5-yard line: we’ve passed the bill, the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Location Act, through the House and we’re incredibly close to getting it through the Senate.
For families of fallen servicemembers and our fellow veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s critically important we get this done, and done now. The Global War on Terrorism Memorial would offer a place to heal and reflect for the 2.7 million Americans who have served since 9/11, and the multitudes of Americans whose loved ones — 7,000 of them — made the ultimate sacrifice over the past 20 years.
The urgency around this issue isn’t abstract. Younger generations of veterans are struggling right now. Text messages to the national Veterans Crisis Line surged by 98 percent in the two weeks after the fall of Kabul in August. Of course, it is good that veterans are reaching out for help. But this is a reminder that remembering a war and fallen servicemembers does not get easier when that war ends and society seems to have moved on — if anything, that burden can grow heavier. This memorial would support veterans’ healing by providing a space to gather and remember, show that their country honors their sacrifice, and serve as a reminder to non-veterans of the sacrifices their fellow Americans continue to make for the country.
What we cannot do is wait decades to honor these fallen heroes, and our history is a helpful guide here. Sadly, it took nearly 60 years after the end of World War II for our country to complete the memorial. We shouldn’t have to wait 60 years for a 90-year-old GWOT veteran to catch their first and last glimpse of the memorial. Instead, we should follow the example set by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which was authorized by law two decades after the beginning of that conflict. Building a GWOT Memorial now means it will be standing for our veterans and Gold Star families during their lifetimes.
The benefits of this memorial extend far beyond Gold Star families and veterans. It would offer all Americans a place to better understand the multiple generations of patriots who have served our country during this conflict and grapple with realities of war. Anyone who has visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial knows that, far from glorifying war, it is a sobering and respectful reminder of its immense costs and sacrifices. A GWOT memorial would likewise ensure that, in an era when military service is distant to too much of the civilian public, it will not be forgotten.
The Global War on Terrorism Memorial Location Act passed the House as a unanimously supported amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act. We are working with our colleagues in the Senate, as well as groups like Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation, With Honor Action, Gold Star families, and the VFW to get the bill sent to the president’s desk so we can get shovels in the ground.
Veterans, Gold Star families, and others are counting on Congress to deliver. Building this memorial on the National Mall is a significant step we can take right now, and we should waste no time getting it done.
Representatives Jason Crow, Mike Gallagher, Jared Golden, and Van Taylor are members of the For Country Caucus, a bipartisan group of principled military veterans in Congress who strive to create a government that is less polarized, more efficient, and is trusted by Americans. Together, they share a vision of a Congress that is strategic in purpose, focused in action, and dedicated to putting their country first. Golden and Taylor serve as co-chairs of the caucus.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, email@example.com.