SAN DIEGO (AP) — Jan Scruggs knew as a young Army infantryman returning from Vietnam that his fellow veterans and his entire country needed a place to go to heal.
More than three decades later, the man who led efforts to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, said it’s now time such a wall be built for post-9/11 combat veterans, even though service members are still dying in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“A lot of these veterans were hurt physically. There are high rates of PTSD, just like among Vietnam veterans, and if we wait until the war on terror is over, they will never see it happen,” he said.
Building a wall on the National Mall would require action from Congress to overturn the 1986 Commemorative Works Act, which stipulates that work cannot begin until 10 years after a war has ended. Scruggs said the law was enacted to prevent too many memorials from being built too quickly and to allow time for history to judge a conflict’s significance.
Scruggs said the law is out of touch with today’s conflicts, which do not have clear-cut endings. He pointed to the recent death of Army Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, the U.S. soldier fatally wounded in a hostage rescue mission in Iraq last month.
“It’s not about the conflict,” he said. “It’s about the service of the veterans and people willing to give their lives for their country.”
Retired Rear Adm. George Worthington, a Navy SEAL who served in Vietnam, agreed.
“Whatever memorial they build, it has to be cognizant of the fact that this isn’t an end game. The war on terror is going to be an issue in the next several presidential elections, I’m afraid,” he said. “They need to build a temple, maybe a pyramid, something that will last thousands of years, or maybe just put a stake in the National Mall for future building rights.”
Still, work on a memorial must get started since it will take years to get done, said Worthington, whose son is an active-duty SEAL.
The Korean War Memorial was built in 1995 and the World War II Memorial in 2004. A World War I Memorial is slated to be built near the White House in 2018, marking a century after that war ended. A Gulf War Memorial is also in the works.
Scruggs headed up a team of veterans in the late 1970s to build the memorial despite strong opposition at the time. His team raised $8.4 million and pushed through legislation.
Since the Vietnam war memorial wall was dedicated in 1982, wives, children, veterans, peace activists, politicians and presidents have gone there to mourn, reflect and share their pain.
Afghanistan veteran Andrew Brennan, a former Army captain, said he was awed by its impact, and has organized the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation, Inc., with other young veterans to take up the calling of building a wall for 9/11 warriors.
“I look at the Vietnam veterans and they really jelled around their memorial after it went up,” the West Point graduate said. “It was a very conflicted conflict in the hearts and minds of Americans, and the same can be said about the global war on terror, but the memorial gave everyone a focal point.
“I want that for my era of veterans, to kind of have our own place to heal,” he said.