It all began in 1997. Lois Pope, a prominent philanthropist with a strong interest in veterans’ causes, contacted Jesse Brown, then Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the Clinton Administration. In turn, Jesse put Lois in touch with Art Wilson, National Adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans. Lois indicated that she wanted to sit down with Art to discuss the many issues facing disabled veterans and their families. During their initial meeting, Lois mentioned that she had noticed all the different memorials around the city. She then asked Art the question that became the inspiration: “Where is it in Washington D.C. that we honor disabled veterans with a memorial?” Art’s answer: “There isn’t one.” Lois’ response: “We need to change that.”
Several months later Jesse, Art and Lois met together to discuss the idea of honoring disabled veterans with a memorial in Washington, D.C. This memorial would be designed to pay tribute to all disabled veterans, past, present and future, who have served or will serve in our nation’s military forces. Knowing they would need authorization from Congress in order to build a memorial, they formed a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization, and The Disabled Veterans’ Life Memorial Foundation, Inc. was born. The initial volunteer Board of Directors of the Foundation included Lois Pope, Chairman, and Art Wilson, President, and two additional volunteer members who were brought aboard for their tireless advocacy and leadership on veteran issues: from California, Ken Musselmann, Director; and from South Dakota, Gene Murphy, Treasurer. Secretary Jesse Brown was the Foundation’s first Executive Director.
All memorials in Washington are subject to the rigid standards of the U.S. Commemorative Works Act [40 USC Chapter 89 – National Capital Memorials and Commemorative Works]. Because the Act limits commemorative works honoring “… individuals or groups of individuals … until after the 25th anniversary of the death of the last surviving member of the group,” this Memorial, which specifically included living disabled veterans, required a special amendment to the Act. The Act proscribes a rigorous process – “24 Steps for Establishing a Memorial in the Nation’s Capital” – which begins with authorization by the U.S. Congress.
After establishing the foundation, Lois, Art and Jesse worked together to draft legislation to present before Congress. The final draft was introduced to Congress in October of 1998, and co-sponsored by Senators John McCain (AZ) and Max Cleland (GA), and Representatives Sam Johnson (TX) and John Murtha (PA). It requested that Congress “authorize the DVLMF to establish a memorial on Federal lands in the District of Columbia or its environs to honor veterans who became disabled while serving in the U.S. armed forces.” Lois, Art and Jesse made numerous trips to Capitol Hill to promote the Memorial mission with legislators, and everyone they met with had the same response: they embraced the idea and were committed to getting it moved through committee and approved. Finally, on October 24, 2000, it was signed into law by President Clinton and became Public Law 106-348.
With the law in place, the Foundation focused on the vital challenges of the “24 Step” process:
• Create broad public awareness of the Memorial and its mission;
• Develop fundraising programs to secure the necessary financial support from individuals, corporations and organizations (Public Law 106-348 specifically stated that no Federal funds would be provided for the Memorial);
• Select a site for the Memorial;
• Convene a Design Competition and select the Memorial designer.
Over the ensuing years, the Foundation successfully executed each of the “24 Steps” leading to the planned dedication of The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in October 2014. After dedication, the Memorial will be transferred to the National Park Service with its mission fulfilled.