After 16 years the Marine Corps War Memorial at last recognizes the sacrifices of Marines who have fought and died in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On Tuesday, new engravings for Iraq and Afghanistan were dedicated to the 1,481 Marines killed in those conflicts.

“Because they are no longer with us in the flesh, we must take a moment to thank their families ― their sons, their daughters, their spouses, their fathers, their mothers, cousins ― for what they did and what they represent,” Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said in a ceremony at the memorial.

“We must keep those who have given all in our thoughts. Their sacrifice and their efforts and the things that they did make us all better.”

The Marine Corps War Memorial commemorates all Marines who have been killed since 1775. Tuesday’s ceremony marked the first time the memorial has been updated since October 1996, when engravings for Panama, the Gulf War and Somalia were added, according to the National Park Service.

The memorial is a place where all Marines can think about their service and what it means to be a Marine, Neller said. But, when Iraq and Afghanistan veterans came to the memorial, he said, family members would ask: “You said you were in Iraq; how come it’s not on here?’”

“For the thousands and thousands of men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, until today they would come down here and they’d be like: ‘Hey, where’s ours?’” Neller said. “They don’t say that to be self-serving. They just want to be able to come down here with their families and show them that what they’ve done and where they’ve served has now made the memorial.

“Hopefully, one day there will be an end date on it.”

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller (left) speaking with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (right) before the dedication of the Iraq and Afghanistan engravings on the Marine Corps War Memorial. (Jeff Schogol/Staff)
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller (left) speaking with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (right) before the dedication of the Iraq and Afghanistan engravings on the Marine Corps War Memorial. (Jeff Schogol/Staff)

With Thanksgiving approaching, Neller said his message to Marines now in Iraq and Afghanistan is: “You know what your mission is. Do your job. Look out for each other. Don’t ever cut any corners. Stay ready all the time. We’ll see you when you get home.”

Because Marines continue to serve in both countries, the Afghanistan and Iraq engravings have no end dates, officials said. The end dates could be added five years after Marines are no longer in those countries, unless there is a definitive end to the conflicts sooner than that.

When asked if he thinks the wars in both countries will ever end, Neller replied: “I hope so. Right now, I wouldn’t speculate on an end. One day it will end and, sadly, maybe there will be other places that go up there.”