Robert M. Gates, Leon E. Panetta, Chuck Hagel, Ash Carter, Jim Mattis and Mark T. Esper are the six surviving secretaries of defense who led the Defense Department during the past 20 years of the global war on terrorism.
As the global war on terrorism reaches its 20th year this Sept. 11, the United States needs a place to honor its sacred war dead. Calls to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Crisis Line have surged since the United States left Kabul. Veteran service organizations have responded with concern, putting out letters, op-eds and videos reminding veterans that their service made a difference.
Yet there is no national memorial to the global war on terrorism. No eternal reminder of the brave women and men who gave their lives for their country. No place to collectively honor the troops, veterans, families and friends who remain. We cannot wait 50 years to break ground on a memorial for this war.
Legislation to secure a prominent location on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for a National Global War on Terrorism Memorial is stalled in Congress, though there is some reason for optimism. The For Country Caucus, a bipartisan group of veterans in the House of Representatives, has called on President Biden to support H.R. 1115, the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Location Act, the final hurdle to authorize construction of the memorial.
In addition, many outside groups, including the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation, Gold Star families and veteran-led groups such as With Honor Action, have been working for years for a National Global War on Terrorism Memorial on the National Mall. The legislation before the House has widespread bipartisan support, with more than 100 co-sponsors. Congress should listen to those voices and pass it into law this year, and Biden should put his public support behind a National Global War on Terrorism Memorial.
Like the other wars memorialized on the National Mall — World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War — the global war on terrorism is the war of a generation. Born from the tragic events of Sept. 11, the war on terrorism is now America’s longest war, touching young women and men who were not yet born on that harrowing day.
We lost more than 7,000 troops during military operations in the past two decades. Each left behind family, friends and fellow service members who deserve a place to remember them. And each of these service members should be held up as a reminder for generations to come of the bravery and sacrifice this war required. Their memories should be enshrined next to the memorials for other brave women and men who gave their lives defending this nation since its founding, because their sacrifices are just as significant.
The National World War II Memorial was completed almost 60 years after the conflict ended. A 20-year-old World War II veteran returning home would have visited the memorial at 80 years old. Most never made it there. We must give friends, families and veterans a place to gather, throughout their lifetimes, with the spirits and memories of all those they lost.
In these days after the exit of the last American service member from Afghanistan and before the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, the president and the Congress have an opportunity and an obligation to get this done.
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