Military veterans of the war on terrorism deserve a memorial. Let’s hope they don’t have to wait as long for it as World War II veterans did theirs.
Pittsburgher Andrew Brennan, an Army veteran who flew helicopters in Afghanistan, has been promoting the idea of a national memorial in Washington, D.C., for about three years. Significant obstacles remain. Funding is one of them, but that’s a worry for another day. First, Congress would have to waive a law that permits memorials to be built only 10 years or more after a war is concluded.
The war on terror, however, is more nebulous than most. It’s a fight against a concept, a tactic used by non-state actors, not a foreign power. It’s waged on many fronts, not two or three. Unlike other wars, such as World War II, it might never end. But that’s no reason to hold off giving veterans their due.
The National WWII Memorial did not open until 2004, 59 years after the war’s end. Now, WWII veterans are dying at a rate of hundreds per day, and there’s a rush to get as many as possible to Washington to see the memorial while they’re still able to travel. The nonprofit Honor Flight Network has cobbled together money and planes to fly tens of thousands of them to Washington.
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Veterans of the war on terrorism shouldn’t have to wait until they are 80 or 90 to visit their memorial. They reported when called, putting duty before families, careers and convenience. Recognition of their sacrifices should be prompt, too.
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., is correct to point out that the 10-year-rule is intended to provide “historical context” to a war. The waiting period theoretically leads to a more fitting tribute. But 10 years is completely arbitrary; historians could provide even better context 20, 30 or 40 years afterward.
While much about the war on terrorism remains unknown, the broad outlines are clear. That’s enough to get started. An unconventional war deserves an unconventional memorial, and this one should be built in a way that allows later chapters of the story to be added. Architects will find a way.
For inspiration, Congress might look at the example set 75 years ago by the people of Monongahela, Pa., who wasted no time erecting an honor roll to friends and relatives serving during WWII. Their memorial went up in June 1942, the work done by local craftsmen and the space donated by a town businessman. Planning, according to the old Daily Republican newspaper, began soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Two girls with brothers in the military pulled aside a red, white and blue curtain unveiling the honor roll, to which names were to be added each month. For America, the war was just getting started. But folks in Monongahela needed no more context than the empty seats at their dinner tables.
Moving on a memorial now would be just thanks to veterans of the war on terrorism. It also might help to steel those of us on the home front.