As the United States draws close to the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, one organization is working to memorialize fallen troops from the Global War on Terror.
Veterans and Athletes United (VAU), a veteran-run nonprofit that supports disabled veterans through adaptive sports and recreation, completed the memorial in 2018 and it has traveled nationwide ever since.
“We hope to bring awareness of the heavy price paid for this flag and to keep our country free,” said James Howard, Founder and President of VAU, in a press release. “We hope our memorial provides an opportunity for visitors to honor, reflect, and heal.”
Most recently, the memorial made a three week-long stop in front of the America’s Response Monument at Liberty Park on the World Trade Center campus in New York.
Designed for Old Glory
Shaped like an American flag when draped over a fallen troop’s casket, the memorial itself is made of 7,040 dog tags. Each one represents a service member who died during the War on Terror. Fifty gold stars honor gold star families nationwide.
The dog tags that make up the flag are organized in alphabetical order and then chronologically by the date the service member was killed in action. Blank tags at the end of the flag will continue to be filled in as the war continues, according to the VAU website’s memorial page.
In front of the flag that spans 28 feet horizontally and six feet vertically is a battle field cross. Alicia Dietz, a veteran artist, sculpted this from mahogany wood.
Honoring fallen troops across the country
Sites can request to host the installation on the VAU website. So far, the memorial has traveled to over 50 locations around the United States. Visitors to the memorial can use the Defense Casualty Analysis System site to find the location of specific names on the memorial.
The VAU Fallen Heroes Memorial was slated to be displayed next at the DoD Warrior Games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. When the games were cancelled on Aug. 17 as a precaution for the COVID-19 Delta Variant, Howard told Military Times that VAU was looking to move the memorial to alternate locations. These locations include two Travis Manion Foundation 9/11 Heroes Run events – one in Richmond, Virginia, and the other in Annapolis, Maryland.
Proceeds from the memorial’s country-wide travel support gold star family organizations and the memorial’s goal of creating a national memorial in Washington, D.C., according to the VAU press release.
When it is not traveling around the country, the memorial stands at the VAU veterans retreat in Richmond, Virginia.
In order to boost the amount of people who can see the memorial, Howard said VAU is looking to build a second memorial on the West Coast. The organization is looking for veteran volunteer builders like the ones who created the original memorial.
Caitlin O'Brien is a digital intern with Military Times. She started in January 2021. Caitlin attends Hofstra University where she is a double major in journalism and political science.