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As democracy withers, Bob Dole and other American soldiers must be remembered

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The passing of former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas) is a reminder of why we need to honor our soldiers. Dole was a lieutenant in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division and was wounded so severely on a battlefield that he lived the rest of his life with limited use of his right arm. He devoted himself to raising money for the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., and sometimes spent weekends there welcoming visiting veterans. He had enlisted in the Army Reserves during college and was called to active duty in 1943.  

Dole’s death is also a reminder of the need for bipartisan efforts to honor the men and women of our nation who fought for the freedom and democracy many of us now fear losing.

After much debate, efforts to honor our U.S. veterans who fought global terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are finally taking shape.

A Global War on Terrorism Memorial would, potentially, take its place near the iconic memorial honoring soldiers from Vietnam, Korea and World War II. This would be particularly appropriate given the recent American withdrawal from Afghanistan and continuing concerns about terrorism. 

Twenty years of conflict has left deep scars for soldiers, their families and victims of terrorism abroad. We should all salute the efforts by a new foundation to address the pain and grief through construction of a lasting memorial. I agree with Marina Jackman, president of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation, when she says, “Now more than ever, the military community needs a place to gather to reflect, to heal and to honor the significant contributions that this generation of warfighters and their families have made on behalf of Americans. ”

Yes, it is time to do something concrete for our veterans. And despite the partisan bickering in Washington, D.C.,  honoring America’s troops should have the support of both political parties. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a retired lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, helped pass legislation with female combat veteran Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), to award U.S. Army Ranger veterans of World War II with the Congressional Gold Medal.

Ernst, who also did a tour of duty in Iraq, is urging her colleagues in the Senate to let the new Global War on Terrorism Monument be located on the National Mall. But that would override a 2003 federal law that prevents new memorials from being built in an area of the National Mall known as The Reserve. Already the question of the monument’s location has become a divisive issue on Capitol Hill as congressional members bicker over the exact place for the memorial. 

At the same time that we see efforts to honor troops in the nation’s capital, there are sporadic but important efforts to honor veterans in cities across the country. In Wilmington, N.C., there is, finally, a memorial that recognizes the contributions of Black soldiers in the Civil War. It has been 156 years since the Battle of Forks Road in Wilmington, one of the war’s final battles.

What distinguishes that battle from others is that it was fought mostly by Black Union soldiers of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT). Eighty percent of the Black soldiers were formerly enslaved men from the South who accounted for over half of the more than 2,000 Union casualties in the battle.

The memorial was erected at the Cameron Art Museum with a bronze sculpture entitled, “Boundless,” featuring 11 figures — a flag-bearer, a drummer and three rows of soldiers, their arms linked together. Next month, the names of 1,820 USCT will be inscribed on the sculpture to honor all of the Black soldiers who fought in the Battle of Forks Road.

In addition to a place to remember those who have passed, we need to improve actions to help those who endured conflict overseas and are still living. That means more programs, funding and social services for all veterans, especially those affected by PTSD and the global health pandemic.

At a time of deep national unrest, let’s remember Bob Dole and those who believed in America and fought for its freedoms. We don’t always agree on things at home, but we can agree that service overseas must be honored.

Tara D. Sonenshine is a former U.S. under-secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

Tags Bob Dole Joni Ernst Tammy Duckworth War on Terror War on Terror World War II

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