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Until every one comes home | The Magazine of the USO

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“It’s been a long journey.”

That short sentence spoken by Lois Pope is an understatement of the highest order. But on October 5, the 16-year odyssey to build the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial will come to a close when the nation’s first permanent public tribute to disabled vets is dedicated in Washington, D.C.

Pope, who spearheaded the effort, is quick to point out that the struggle to build the memorial was not hers alone.   

Lois Pope, right, along with Gary Sinise, center, and former VA Secretary Gordon Mansfield participate in the groundbreaking ceremony for the memorial in November 2010. Courtesy photosLois Pope, right, along with Gary Sinise, center, and former VA Secretary Gordon Mansfield participate in the groundbreaking ceremony for the memorial in November 2010. Courtesy photos“We had some rough days, but we all had such tenacity and determination to make it happen,” said Pope, a former Broadway actress and singer. “No man is an island and it took a lot of help from a lot of other people who were similarly dedicated.”

Pope’s interest in building the memorial was sparked by a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1997.

“I stopped to place my hand on my cousin’s name,” she said, referring to a relative whose name appears on the black granite wall. “Beside me, a multiple amputee struggled to lay a bouquet of flowers below a buddy’s name.

“When I turned to leave, I asked a park ranger if he knew where a memorial to disabled veterans was. He took out a map and said there wasn’t one.”

That was all the inspiration she needed to embark on a long-term quest to build a memorial that recognizes the service and sacrifice of nearly 4 million living disabled veterans, their families and caregivers.

Located on a triangular, 2.4-acre site about 1,000 feet from the U.S. Capitol, the memorial features a star-shaped fountain which flows into a reflecting pool. Adjacent glass panels and bronze sculptures “display the universal story of disabled veterans’ pride of service, trauma of injury, challenge of healing and renewal of purpose,” according to a press release.

Pope said that she wants the memorial to inform, remind and educate the public about disabled vets. “I want everybody to know about their courage, the sacrifices – they made sacrifices for our liberty,” she said. “The cost of war isn’t over when the guns are silent. [Veterans] come home and they have to battle every day.”

It was a different kind of battle for Pope and her team at the Disabled Veterans’ LIFE Memorial Foundation as they worked to get the memorial constructed. It took years of planning, designing and fundraising – taxpayer funds cannot be used to build monuments – before breaking ground on the site in November 2010.

Now just days away from the Oct. 5 unveiling, Pope says the public is invited to attend the dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. on Sunday in Washington. It’s free to attend, but registration is required. For more information, go to http://www.avdlm.org/dedication.

An aerial photo of the memorial shows it under construction in August.An aerial photo of the memorial shows it under construction in August.