By Col. James Riffe
One of the many consequences of the pandemic over the last year and a half was the cancellation of Honor Flights to Washington, D.C. The flights transport as many United States military veterans as possible to see the memorials of the respective war or wars they fought in at no cost to the veterans. Unfortunately, many of our World War II veterans passed away without being able to participate in an Honor Flight.
Over the last several weeks, those flights have resumed and I’m pleased to see my fellow World War II veterans from Kansas to New York to California make the trip to our nation’s capital to visit the National World War II Memorial and other war memorials.
I am fortunate to live close enough to Washington, D.C. so I am able to visit the World War II Memorial as frequently as I am physically able to. It is a beautiful and spiritual home where I feel connected to my military brothers and sisters who fought and died in World War II.
The Memorial honors the 16 million who served in the Armed Forces of the U.S. during World War II, the more than 400,000 who died, and the millions who supported the war effort from home. Symbolic of the defining event of the 20th century, the Memorial is a monument to the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of the American people to the common defense of the nation and to peace and freedom from tyranny throughout the world.
Recently, I learned that the Memorial is in need of critical repairs and maintenance. The National Park Service, which oversees the maintenance of the Memorial, has an estimated $12 billion backlog – approximately $1billion allocated for the National Mall alone. Repairs and maintenance to the Memorial, which are needed, are not highest on the priority list.
There is good news though. Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) introduced the National World War II Memorial Commemorative Coin Act, a bill to authorize the U.S. Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of the National World War II Memorial. Proceeds from the sale of the commemorative coins will be used to maintain and repair the Memorial, as well as for commemorative and educational programming.
The commemorative coin will serve as an important representation of the brave Americans who fought to defend the nation and advance peace and freedom throughout the world. The legislation ensures that the World War II Memorial will be properly and appropriately maintained, and that the commemorative and educational programming at the Memorial remains robust and substantial.
The bill currently has 292 cosponsors and is ready for consideration for a vote. Senators Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) have also introduced a companion bill in the Senate, the Greatest Generation Memorial Act. I call on my Representative Jennifer Wexton and Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to support this important bipartisan legislation.
The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate should quickly pass the National World War II Memorial Commemorative Coin Act and the Greatest Generation Act, respectively, so the Memorial can stand the test of time and educational programming and commemorative events at the Memorial will continue so our younger generations understand the lessons of yesterday with the goal of uniting together today and tomorrow. Let’s be sure our veterans who visit the Memorial, both via Honor Flights and other means, continue to have a proper and fitting monument that lasts for generations.
Col. James Riffe is a 100-year-old Army veteran of World War II. He lives in Gainesville, Va.