WASHINGTON — Before the House last Friday unanimously passed legislation to start the process of building a Global War on Terrorism memorial, a line of young war veterans took to the chamber floor to offer an emotional view of the importance of the work.
Bill sponsor Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., a Marine Corps officer who served in Iraq, said he was somewhat surprised by the heartfelt testimony, despite numerous conversations with colleagues about the strong feelings among veterans about the memorial.
The measure would allow the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation, an independent non-profit, to begin what is expected to be a decade-long effort to fund, plan and build a memorial on the National Mall dedicated to the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Senate still must approve the measure before it becomes law. But lawmakers are hopeful the personal stories of loss and sacrifice they shared last week can fast-track the legislation.
Here’s a sampling of the testimony from the bill debate:
** Gallagher, who served two tours in Iraq:
“This is a conflict unlike many others that have preceded it. This war will have no clear V-E Day or V-J Day. Threats will continue to rise and so the longest ongoing conflict in our nation’s history continue. After 15 years, after over 6,800 American lives lost, there is still no end in sight...
“I was lucky, I had brave Marines that kept me safe. We all came home safe. But my hope is that this memorial will serve as not only a way to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifices, but also as a call to action for us, the living...
“If we’re going to continue passing the torch of democracy from one generation to the next, then we need to build this memorial so that future generations never forget their duty to do the same.”
** Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., a Marine Corps officer who served in Iraq:
“I’d like to share just one story with you about someone from my district who would be on this memorial. Capt. Jennifer Harris was a graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy and became the first Massachusetts woman killed in the Iraq war.
“Jennifer was the epitome of leadership and sacrifice. On flying missions she had the call sign ‘the dove.’ She would often be called to evacuate our wounded soldiers and Marines on the battlefield. (Her) final mission was to transport blood supplies.
“She willingly volunteered for it, even though she was just days away from returning home. In fact, she was initially told, ‘no, you are too close to leaving. Don’t go.’ But she said, “I want to fly one more time.
“Her superiors reluctantly agreed and Capt. Harris died on Feb. 7, along with six other crew members after insurgents shot down her helicopter. In her 20’s with a bright future ahead of her, Capt. Harris was on her third tour of duty in Iraq …
“The men and women who have given their all in the war on terror should be afforded a place on the national mall where their loved ones can pay respect and honor their sacrifice.”
** Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., a naval reservist who served in Afghanistan:
“Last night I went to Arlington National Cemetery. I took my two daughters, who are here in town. We saw what people normally see, the changing of the guard, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the tomb of President Kennedy.
“But I made it a point to go to area 60, the area where there are many recent interments from the people, from our veterans, from our brethren, who have served in the Global War on Terrorism.
“On that hallowed ground, I made it a point to seek out someone I served with, a gentleman by the name of Brendan Looney. I served with Mr. Looney in Korea. He was an intelligence officer back then. Both of us made sure that we wanted to do more. I went forward, but Brendan Looney wanted to do more than just that: he wanted to become a SEAL, and he did. He served in Iraq and he served in Afghanistan.
“It was in 2010 when the Blackhawk he was riding in went down and crashed, killing everybody onboard …
“The men and women who served in the global war on terrorism did not shrink from that responsibility. They did not run away. They ran forward.”
** Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., a Marine Corps infantryman who served in Iraq:
“As we consider this legislation, I hope every member will think about the courageous men and women we lost over the past 16 years. When I cast this vote today, I will be thinking of my close friends, including Cpl. Andre Williams and Lance Cpl. Christopher Lyons, who died 12 years ago today in Iraq...
“The guys that I served with, there was a group called Lima 3/25 out of Ohio and it was the best group of people I have ever met. We were nice young men from New Mexico that were added to these country boys and city boys in Ohio and sent to Iraq.
“We saw a lot of combat. We lost a lot of friends...
“I believe that having a memorial like this of this nature would be extremely important for many men and women to be able to come together, maybe not necessarily physically meet with their comrades but spiritually have a place to meet with their comrades, with the people they served with in arms.”
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.