WASHINGTON — Though separated by a few hundred yards, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the recently dedicated site of the future National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial are “inextricably” linked.
That was a message echoed by speakers at the Tuesday dedication ceremony of the patch of land within sight of the Lincoln Memorial and the Wall.
Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Albert “Chuck” Horner struck at a question that supporters have encountered since inspiration to undertake the project began in 2010 — why build a monument to such a short conflict?
First and most obvious, said Horner, himself a veteran of both Vietnam and Desert Storm, is to memorialize the sacrifice of those who served and especially those who died.
But it’s also important to show that military force applied to the right ends with the right leadership could accomplish its mission. And that the American public can honor and respect its veterans.
He called it a monument to actions that led to the “atonement” for the disaster that led to the more than 50,000 names of the dead on the Vietnam Wall.
“This monument should be a place that every president and secretary of defense should come and visit prior to committing our nation to war,” Horner said.
The actual Desert Storm monument is at least a few years away, but the legislative and site approval hurdles have been cleared.
Now the Desert Storm War Memorial Association needs to finalize the concept and design, and finish raising money to build the structure.
The concept approval and design phases are underway. Association President and CEO Scott Stump said that they’ve raised $2.5 million of the $34 million they’ll need to build the monument.
They hope to have the monument completed before Veterans Day 2021, which would mark 30 years since the conflict.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who served as defense secretary during Desert Storm, recounted how he and his wife came to the Vietnam memorial the morning of the day that combat operations commenced in Desert Storm.
“I wanted to make sure we got it right this time,” Cheney said.
In specific ways, the administration and Pentagon conducted that war very differently than how the Vietnam War unfolded.
A coalition of 34 nations was put together. The United Nations security council saw a rare unanimous vote in support by all of its permanent members.
“Desert Storm was so swift and certain in result that to some, in retrospect, it looked almost easy,” Cheney said.
That, in some ways, has been the conflict’s own weakness in historical memory.
Stump, a Desert Storm Marine veteran, said it was in 2010 when it dawned on him that the conflict was in danger of becoming a historical footnote, sandwiched between Vietnam and the post-9/11 wars.
Often discussions he had with non-veterans would fall into three areas, either people didn’t know anything about the war, or they thought it was a continuation of the post-9/11 Iraq invasion or they brushed it off as the 100-hour video game war in which nobody died.
All three versions are wrong.
Stump points to the differences in the missions. The Persian Gulf War was focused on liberating Kuwait, while the Iraq War was to topple dictator Saddam Hussein’s government.
The air war went on for more than 40 days, laying the foundation for the brief ground combat portion.
And despite efforts to avoid deaths, more than 300 coalition troops were killed; of those, 148 U.S. service members died in the operations.
Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jeane Hampton, an Air Force veteran of Desert Storm, envisions the monument in a place alongside the other war memorials. She’s taken part in multiple “honor flights,” bringing veterans here for a tour of memorials, specifically to the monuments to their conflict.
“And, in time, this memorial will be part of that trek,” she said.
One veteran who’s likely to be in the front of the line when the monument is eventually built is John Schimpf, a Desert Storm Marine veteran who served with the 2nd Battalion of the 24th Marines, a reserve unit out of Illinois.
Schimpf spent eight years in the Marine Reserve, from 1989 to 1997, and deployed twice, once for Desert Storm and once for a peacekeeping mission.
He served in a time of limited operations and small conflicts in which many service members could spend an entire career without seeing combat or even deploying overseas.
“As a Marine, that’s what you look for, being able to use your training,” he said.
He and those he deployed with made a quick tradition of meeting up on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving every year. It’s a tradition they’ve stuck with since a year after they got home in 1992.
“How it impacted me?” Schimpf said. “It was my honor that it was my time to be able to serve. What more can you say?”