Time to remember service and courage

One day - a decade off from now they will have a memorial. Yet in November 2014 there should be something special awaiting them on the Mall-  it will serve the major purposes of a national memorial until they get their own some day. The Education Center at the Wall will also employ several hundred Iraq veterans in the construction.

The Center will be a place to celebrate service to our nation by our citizens who - since 1775- have sacrificed to make- and keep- America free. The effort was authorized by Congress in 2003.  Prominent Americans are involved including former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, leaders of veterans groups, labor, conservatives, liberals, hawks, doves, teachers, students, historians.  

From Maui to Orlando a grassroots movement is on fire. Americans have worked to find over 30,000 photographs of our fallen from Vietnam - which will be a highlight of the exhibition. The display of some of the over 400,000 items left at the Wall will also highlight the values that are so important for Americans to understand. The Center will elevate service and give a face to the names on the Wall- and to those who will not return alive who are now in combat - as you read this today. The artist representation shows the dramatic honor for our fallen heroes of recent and current wars.  

Values like duty, honor, integrity, courage and service are celebrated with extraordinary exhibits at the Education Center at the Wall. Visitors will be given a dog tag at the end of the tour- but only if they agree to go back to volunteer in their communities for at least 4 hours.

The Center will do something else new and unique. The Center will create revenue for the U.S. Treasury. A study by Ernst and Young affirms that timed ticketing and bookstore sales will generate several million dollars of annual revenue - making the Center financially self sufficient. Congress has given hundreds of millions to build the African American Museum and Eisenhower Memorial. Over fifty million dollars was  approved for 2013 for the Holocaust Museum. These all deserve the funding. Yet The Wall was privately funded and has been largely maintained by private donations to include installation of an irrigation system and lighting. We have spent millions maintaining  and improving the Wall- saving the taxpayers money.    

The very best minds in both Congress and the White House just cannot find a way to get any federal funding for the Education Center. The best anyone can come up with is to allow us to recognize donors discretely in the Center. This bipartisan legislative effort will require heavy lifting. Congressman Young of Alaska will lead the effort.  Companies like Time Warner have given 10 million dollars. Yet most will not make large donations unless they get recognition in the Center - as is the case inside of the new Martin Luther King Memorial.

We are raising another forty million dollars. There have been big costs to meet the creative desires of various federal agencies and commissions. Yet others have helped.  The prime minister of Australia gave over three million dollars approved by Parliament. She noted that Australia is an ally of America. Other American allies are considering financial donations. We will succeed.  

Will we make the 2014 deadline and build a facility welcoming home our veterans and  generating revenue for the Mall ? We can. There are many moving parts involving people and entities trying to help this goal come about.  From Governor Rick Perry (R-Tex.) to Richard Trumpka at the AFL CIO- a wide spectrum of people are very much involved. Americans can actually agree on a few ideas.

Vietnam Veterans were welcomed home by the Wall. I am the person who led the effort and got it built. In 1982 I also organized a parade down Constitution Avenue. There were 50,000 Vietnam veterans. It was time to welcome them home. In 2014 it will be time to welcome back some other returning veterans. Join us.

Scruggs was an infantryman in Vietnam. He is founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. For more information visit www.buildthecenter.org

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