The 2.4-acre site was selected because of its prime location just off the National Mall and within view of Congress. But the location has come with some logistical and red tape headaches.
When the memorial was conceptualized in 1997, the Disabled Veterans’ LIFE Memorial Foundation first set out to raise $85 million in private funds. Thirteen years later, and with approximately $10 million donated by more than a million disabled veterans through the DAV, the foundation is only $250,000 shy of its goal.
“The steadfast commitment of so many DAV and Auxiliary members has kept this incredibly important effort moving forward,” said National Adjutant Arthur H. Wilson, president and co-founder of the foundation. “We are moving closer and closer to actually having a memorial to those who continue to sacrifice due to their military service to the United States.”
Congress approved the memorial in 2000, and Michael Vergason Landscape Architects’ creation “Fire in the Grove” won the Foundation’s design competition in 2001. Architects Michael Vergason and Doug Hays then set about to hone the design. But after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the section of road running through the memorial’s site was seen as a dangerous truck-bomb route to a congressional office building, and the design was reconfigured accordingly.
In 2009, the Commission of Fine Arts approved the design, as did the National Capital Planning Commission in 2010, and construction documents were given the final stamp of approval. In April 2011, Tompkins Builders, Inc., which rebuilt the Reflecting Pool and the World War II Memorial, was selected, followed by a May announcement that sculptor Larry Kirkland had been commissioned to create four bronze pieces.
The foundation expected to move on construction last summer, but, as project executive Barry Owenby explained in early August, there was a delay in obtaining construction permits from the National Park Service due to continued site-specific difficulties. Five utility companies have facilities on or through the site that would have to be relocated. Plus, the project required additional federal funds to manage the necessary street closures and infrastructure improvements along with relocating the utilities.
Even so, significant offsite work has begun, including the purchase and fabrication of materials for the memorial. Three types of granite will be used for the memorial: Bethel White was selected for the Wall of Gratitude, Virginia Mist for the plaza paving and St. John’s Black for the fountain and reflecting pool.
Architect Hays explained that while the original idea was to use marble, the National Parks Service requested a more durable material be used, and granite was selected.
Three glass walls will be made of 48 laminated, five-ply panels of Starphire glass with inscriptions and images embedded in the interior panes. This is the same glass used in the Apache helicopter and B-2 bomber.
An eternal flame will flicker in the center of a star- shaped fountain at the heart of the memorial, and a grove of trees will surround the site, which will also offer a parking lot for the disabled.
Actor Gary Sinise, notable for his role as Lieutenant Dan in the movie Forrest Gump, is the memorial’s official spokesman.
“It has been a long, and at times difficult, journey to make this memorial a reality,” Adjutant Wilson said. “But disabled American veterans know what it means to persevere, to push on to complete the mission. The memorial will be well worth it in the end.”