WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama paid tribute to disabled U.S. veterans on Sunday, pointing to the dedication of a new memorial honoring those severely injured in war as a symbol of the nation's perseverance and character.
Obama marked the opening of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, which honors disabled veterans both living and deceased from conflicts throughout the nation's history. The president said the memorial would commemorate two centuries of Americans who have stepped forward to serve, leaving behind loved ones, and returned home forever altered by war.
"America, if you want to know what real strength is, if you want to see the character of our country, a country that never quits, look at these men and women," Obama told more than 3,100 people gathered at the dedication.
The monument of granite and glass near the U.S. Capitol opened as the U.S. disentangles itself from more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, where about 50,000 military personnel have been injured in conflict. In recent months, Obama has grappled with the rise of the Islamic State group militants now wreaking havoc in Iraq and in neighboring Syria.
Obama said the nation has not always fulfilled its obligations to those who serve — calling it a "painful truth" — and said the memorial would remind the country of its debt to its veterans and those serving in the military.
"This memorial is a challenge to all of us, a reminder of the obligations this country is under. If we are to truly honor these veterans we must heed the voices that speak to us here. Let's never rush into war, because it is America's sons and daughters who bear the scars of war for the rest of their lives," Obama said. "Let us only send them into harm's way when it's absolutely necessary."
The memorial was organized by philanthropist Lois Pope, former Veterans Affairs secretary Jesse Brown and Art Wilson, who retired as CEO and national adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans organization in 2013. The group first started work on creating the memorial in the late 1990s and raised more than $80 million for its construction.
The monument features a star-shaped fountain and ceremonial flame surrounded by a grove of trees. It is located behind the U.S. Botanic Garden near the Rayburn House Office Building.
Memorial website: http://www.avdlm.org/
Associated Press writer Stacy A. Anderson contributed to this report. Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter: https://twitter.com/KThomasDC