A Place to Pause and Ponder the Marks of War

One of Washington’s newest memorials is also one of its most unique. Dedicated by President Barak Obama on October 5, 2014, the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial (AVDLM) stands on a wedge-shaped piece of ground in Southwest Washington, D.C., an island of reverence floating amidst a busy bureaucratic sea.

Unlike other monuments found throughout Washington dedicated to individuals, military units or specific wars, this memorial is dedicated to all current and former members of the Armed Forces who have been changed physically or psychologically by war.

The AVDLM was the brainchild of Lois Pope, a Florida philanthropist who was inspired after meeting a disabled veteran at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1995 and realizing no similar monument exited for American service members disabled by war.


She would ultimately team up with then-U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown and Art Wilson, head of the Disabled American Veterans, to spearhead the effort. The three would encounter many challenges and hurdles in building this memorial before realizing their goal, not the least of which was the memorial’s location.

The 1986 Commemorative Works Act provided the National Capital Monuments Commission the authority to approve the sighting for all monuments and memorials on most Federally owned land.

During the review process, the commission found that the AVDLM did not reach the level of prominence necessary to afford it a space on the National Mall. While the AVLDM’s supporters were taken aback by the decision, they selected an alternate location one block south of the Mall, rather than risk a major delay in the project.

A view of the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory (and its reflection) from the memorial.

At first glance, the site might seem an odd location for such a monument. It lies between three busy streets–Washington Avenue, 2nd Street and C Street–amid interchange ramps for arterial highways and next to the Headquarters of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Rayburn House Office and other Federal office buildings spread out in the blocks around it. The massive Capitol Power Plant looms large to the south. Pedestrian and vehicle traffic can be heavy in the area.

The U.S. Capitol Dome and the Bartholdi Fountain are both visible from the AVDLM site. The memorial’s planners thought the close proximity of the memorial to the Capitol would remind Congress of their responsibilities regarding war and peace.

After numerous revisions, the final construct combined stone, water, fire, vegetation, and etched glass into multiple design elements which not only mark the physical and psychological impact of war on the veteran, but also the ability of that veteran to emerge from trauma and move forward toward recovery with courage and resolve.

The National Capital Planning Commission’s architectural drawing of the layout of the AVDLM’s final design.  National Capital Planning Commission (June 24, 2010). American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, …  NCPC File No. 6179 (Report). Washington, D.C.: National Capital Planning Commission.

The focal point of the memorial is a star-shaped fountain and triangular reflecting pool. At the center of the fountain is a flame produced by the ignition of gas bubbles floating up through the water. The flame of course recalls the sacrifice of wounded veterans and the effect of the flame rising out of the water is quite enthralling. (Unfortunately, during the colder weather months the fountain is drained and there is no flame).

Along the south side of the memorial (cleverly masking the power plant) are three walls composed of 48 glass panels where the true message of the AVDLM is found in etched images and inscriptions of wounded veterans discussing their duty, the impact of their wounds, what it took to recover, and how they moved forward.

The 18 quotes on the walls were selected from over 600 submitted anonymously to a design panel. Interspersed within the walls are four bronze silhouette sculptures which provide additional visual context to the disabled veteran’s path of pride in their service, trauma, recovery and finding new purpose.

Along the western side of the memorial are two large granite walls bearing two more quotes on the burdens of war and military service by George Washington and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Around the memorial are ginkgo and cypress trees and a variety of ornamental bushes and other plants, which add some greenery to the many stone and glass features. The ginkgo trees turn gold each November and will ultimately grow to form a canopy through the memorial.

A ginkgo tree silhouetted by the Department of Health and Human Services next to the memorial.
A bronze silhoutte sculpture within the glass wall.

Throughout the memorial plaza are a myriad of stone benches, inviting the visitor to sit and spend some time letting the memorial’s elements come together – the burning flame, the trickling water, the thoughts and images of the veterans, the names of Washington and Eisenhower, the Capitol Dome, even the traffic and people passing by – to remind us all that the wounded warrior is much more than the wound.

Disability does not define the disabled veteran.

If you cannot come to Washington DC to visit the AVDLM in person, click here for a virtual tour or check out the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial website for a video montage and information about the memorial’s planning and construction.

* * *

The Census Bureau estimates there are approximately 4 million disabled veterans living in the United States today. If after your physical or virtual visit to the AVDLM, you want to lend some of them a hand, there are many organizations who are looking for volunteers with a wide variety of skills to assist in providing professional services, home improvement help, advocacy, fundraising and many other areas.

A few examples include:

  • The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization offers a variety of services to disabled veterans and their families and has many volunteer opportunities.
  • The Fisher House Foundation has a network of homes on the grounds of military and VA hospitals for visiting family members of hospitalized service members and veterans. Fisher House operates the Hero Miles Program, using donated frequent flier miles to bring family members to the hospitals for visits.
  • Building Homes for Heroes builds specially modified homes for disabled veterans that help them live independently. The homes are provided at no cost to the veterans.

ROUTE RECON

The AVDLM is located southwest of the U.S. Capitol and south of the U.S. Botanic Gardens. The Street address is 150 Washington Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20024. The memorial is accessible from the Capitol South and Federal Center Southwest Metro Stations (on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines).  There is very limited street parking in the immediate area.

MESS CALL

There are a number of eating establishments in the blocs to the west of the AVDLM. One locally owned favorite is the 2 Sisters Deli at 400 C Street SW. The deli features tasty and generously sized sandwiches at a reasonable (for DC anyway) price. And the staff is friendly.

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