George W. Casey Jr., a retired general, was chief of staff of the Army from 2007 to 2011 and the commander of coalition forces in Iraq from 2004 to 2007. He is an adviser to the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation.
Over the past two weeks, the House and Senate Natural Resources subcommittees held hearings for identical bills swiftly moving through both chambers of Congress. The committees and chambers at large soon will make a decision of vital importance with respect to the veteran and military communities and the public at large: They will decide how we will memorialize those who have made the ultimate sacrifice over the past 16 years of sustained combat.
The committee will determine whether now is the time to authorize a National Memorial for the Global War on Terrorism.
By building a National Global War on Terrorism Memorial, we would forever preserve the memory of those we have lost in the fighting that followed Sept. 11, 2001, continues today and will continue into the foreseeable future. It will be the first national memorial in Washington authorized for an ongoing war. The men and women it would recognize volunteered from every race, creed and religion and from home towns across our great country. This memorial would stand as a place to educate our country about selfless service and sacrifice. It would inspire future generations of heroes in service to our nation. It would help connect members of our civilian population who too often are unaware of what its warriors are asked to sacrifice when they defend our freedoms.
How would a physical memorial do these things? We need look no further than our existing national war memorials on the Mall to understand. For 35 years, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has stood as a source of healing and pride for the country and for the generation of veterans who fought in Vietnam. Veterans, some of whom were treated very poorly by their countrymen upon their return from war, take solace in the communal healing space the Wall provides. The Korean War Veterans Memorial gave veterans of the “Forgotten War” much-needed recognition of their service, which was largely overlooked. The World War II generation was welcomed home as victors with ticker-tape parades all across our nation. It took our nation 59 years to formally recognize the Greatest Generation with a national memorial. It is an inspiring and moving experience to witness a group of WWII veterans come to see their national memorial.
The impact of these memorials extends beyond the warfighters themselves. It also provides a common bonding place for families of the fallen to grieve. Memorial Day is a day that we come together as a nation to remember our loved ones lost in war. However, for the widows, children and Gold Star family members of our service members lost in today’s war, there is no communal space for them to collectively pay tribute to their loved ones lost fighting on our nation’s behalf except Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 60. This memorial would change that.
While these memorials have been places of great healing for the veterans and families of previous wars, they also have been great sources of education for younger generations of Americans. Every spring and fall in our nation’s capital, you will find children on school field trips who have traveled from around the country walking around the Mall. They learn why they are standing before 58,300 names inscribed on a dark granite wall or in front of a grand fountain that recognizes a generation of Americans who saved the world from tyranny. Walking on hallowed ground, our citizenry gains an understanding of the effect these periods of history had on our country.
People often ask, “Why now?” We are in the longest sustained combat in our history. The warriors who shouldered the burden of war for the past 16 years, and the families who stood alongside them, should not have to wait 59 years to be recognized in our nation’s capital.
My sincerest hope is that the legislators making the decisions on this important piece of legislation recognize the courage, the perseverance and the sacrifices of the men and women who have served our country so well over the past 16 years and authorize the memorial to go forward.