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John J. Devine, left, a Massapequa, N.Y., resident who lost his right leg in the Vietnam War, is congratulated by actor Gary Sinise upon Devine’s selection as recipient of the 2006 Unsung Hero Award at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Awards Gala on April 25 at The Pierre in Manhattan, N.Y.

John J. Devine, left, a Massapequa, N.Y., resident who lost his right leg in the Vietnam War, is congratulated by actor Gary Sinise upon Devine’s selection as recipient of the 2006 Unsung Hero Award at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Awards Gala on April 25 at The Pierre in Manhattan, N.Y. (Photo courtesy of Ann Billingsley)

John J. Devine, left, a Massapequa, N.Y., resident who lost his right leg in the Vietnam War, is congratulated by actor Gary Sinise upon Devine’s selection as recipient of the 2006 Unsung Hero Award at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Awards Gala on April 25 at The Pierre in Manhattan, N.Y.

John J. Devine, left, a Massapequa, N.Y., resident who lost his right leg in the Vietnam War, is congratulated by actor Gary Sinise upon Devine’s selection as recipient of the 2006 Unsung Hero Award at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Awards Gala on April 25 at The Pierre in Manhattan, N.Y. (Photo courtesy of Ann Billingsley)

This watercolor illustration of the entrance to the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial shows how it will look when it is completed on a two-acre-plus site near the nation’s Capitol.

This watercolor illustration of the entrance to the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial shows how it will look when it is completed on a two-acre-plus site near the nation’s Capitol. (E. Michael Vergason / Landscape Architects)

Building a memorial in the nation’s capital takes legislation, money and lots of time. But philanthropist Lois Pope feels that having a cause you believe in makes it all worthwhile.

Pope’s quest for a memorial started in 1996.

While visiting the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, she thought, “Why wasn’t there a memorial for all the men and woman in wheelchairs, on canes or with prosthetic devices?”

So Pope created the Disabled Veterans’ LIFE Memorial Foundation.

The Veterans Affairs Department put her in touch with Arthur H. Wilson, national adjunct of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). Wilson helped her bring her plan to Congress, where she met with Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Max Cleland, D-Ga., among others, to craft the bill.

President Clinton signed the legislation for the memorial into law in 2000. A two-acre-plus site was designated on the National Mall in full view of the Capitol building.

But that was just the beginning.

With the legislation out of the way and the land set aside, the long and arduous task of raising money could begin.

“You can’t start building a memorial unless you have all the money in the bank, plus 10 percent,” Wilson said. “It requires a celebrity to raise that kind of awareness.”

Enter Academy Award-nominated actor Gary Sinise.

“I met Gary when the DAV gave him an award for his performance of Lt. Dan in ‘Forrest Gump,’” Wilson said. “He is very sympathetic and wants to do something for the people who have sacrificed for this country.”

Sinise, who currently stars in the television series “CSI: New York,” agreed to become the official spokesman for the Disabled Veterans’ LIFE Memorial Foundation.

“I was very moved and honored when the [DAV] wanted to give me an award for playing a character in a movie,” Sinise said. “When they approached me [about the foundation] I volunteered to raise money to build this memorial. … And the best way I can do that is bring attention to the foundation.”

With the help of Sinise, a letter-writing campaign and an annual gala held in New York, the foundation has raised about one-third of its goal.

“We are well on our way. We now have $20 million of the $65 million we need to start construction,” Pope said.

“It’s a long process, but I think it is moving along nicely,” Wilson said.

Once built, the Disabled Veterans’ LIFE Memorial will be the only memorial in Washington dedicated to living disabled veterans.

“[There are] 3 million disabled veterans who sacrificed parts of their bodies and parts of their lives for this country. Those are tremendous sacrifices … and they deserve to be recognized in something that reminds all Americans of sacrifices that they have made,” Sinise said.

“It’s almost as obvious as the nose on your faces that we build this memorial,” Wilson said. “It will transcend generations and will be a place that families can say, ‘Thank you.’”

For more information, go to: http://www.avdlm.com.

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