As the war in Afghanistan winds down and our troops come home, I join all Americans in honoring the lives lost over 20 years of our longest war. I am proud of and humbled by the service of today’s armed forces, including my son, a F-35 Lightning II pilot.
As a war orphan, this has been a time of great reflection for me as I of think about the war that took my father’s life 77 years ago. Of course, it was a different time then. Our country was united on the home front and battle front and sacrificed for the greater good of the country and the world.
My father, Lt. Kenneth H. Underwood, fought in World War II. He was a P-38 Lightning pilot and was killed on May 18, 1944. As I grew up, I often wondered about him and why he went off to fight and die for his country. I have come to know so much through my research about him and how proud I am for his ultimate sacrifice. His duty to his country cost him his life; but, he will always be my hero, along with my son who carries his name and his tradition of service.
Those World War II heroes and their generation received their recognition when the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., was finally built in 2004. 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 the broader causes of peace and freedom from tyranny throughout the world. It inspires future generations of Americans, deepening their appreciation of what the World War II generation accomplished in securing freedom and democracy.
Above all, the memorial stands as an important symbol of American national unity, a timeless reminder of the moral strength and awesome power that can flow when a free people are at once united and bonded together in a common and just cause.
The memorial is now 17 years old and starting to show some wear and tear. It is one of the most visited on the National Mall. The National Park Service – the caretakers of the Memorial – currently has a $12 billion maintenance backlog of priority work nationwide. Nearly $1 billion of this backlog is for the National Mall alone.
This spring, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio, 9th) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill., 16th) introduced the National World War II Memorial Commemorative Coin Act, which authorizes the U.S. Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of the National World War II Memorial. Proceeds from the sale of the coins will be used to maintain and repair the memorial, as well as for educational programming.
The bill currently has 239 cosponsors, but needs at least 290 House cosponsors before it can be considered for a vote. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) have also introduced a companion bill in the Senate, the Greatest Generation Memorial Act. I’m calling on my representatives, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), to support these important bills to raise private dollars to make these repairs — potentially saving millions in taxpayer money, and make the repairs much sooner.
The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate should quickly pass this legislation 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.