When It Comes to Honoring Disabled Veterans, Capitol Hill American Legion Members Clean Up

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After two hours of hard work, the clean-up team – all members of Capitol Hill’s American Legion Post 8 – pose with Park Ranger James Pierce in front of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. Photo: Maggie Hall

It’s the newest monument, and the most hidden away. But once found and faced, it’s impact is enormous. The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial lies behind the splendor of the Bartholdi Park fountain, which in the heat of the DC summer is a delightful spot to rest, with its tables, chairs, umbrellas, and the fine mist from the tumbling water.

So, make time when you’re in that part of Capitol Hill. It’s where the Hill ends and the Mall starts. The design and the artwork of the memorial will stop you in your tracks. And lead you to pondering the cruel fate of so many of our veterans who have returned home from the battlefield scarred, damaged – physically and mentally – for life.

Then take time to admire how pristine and clean the etched glass memorial walls and their granite and bronze surrounds are. How lovely and colorful the plants in the numerous bedding plots. Give thanks to the American Legion’s Capitol Hill Post 8. It’s adopted the memorial. During the last weekend in every spring, summer, and fall month you will see, early in the morning, a clean-up crew scrubbing and washing, weeding, mulching, planting, pruning, sweeping and picking up litter.

Because the post’s Auxiliary – the all-female branch of the Legion – is the driving force behind making the clean-up happen, there are usually more women working away than men!

The post’s involvement began several years ago. At one of the regular dinners the post lays on for patients at the Walter Reed Military Hospital, in Bethesda, was James Pierce, a former staff sergeant in the North Carolina National Guard. He was recovering from having a leg badly mangled in a suicide bombing raid (that killed three of his comrades) while serving in Afghanistan.

Move on a bit, and James, now out of hospital, continued coming to the dinners, accompanying patients still undergoing rehab. Thanks to the revolutionary IDEO brace he was fitted with (in place of having his left leg amputated) it’s almost impossible to detect that Pierce is himself among the “disabled for life.” IDEO translates to Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis, a customized energy-storing device that is designed to support and protect lower-extremity limb injuries.

During this time, Pierce started his new life as a park ranger with the National Park Service. He quickly became the volunteer coordinator, based in DC, heavily involved in the planning, design, and structure of the memorial, which was dedicated in October 2014. His ongoing friendship with Post 8 resulted in members providing TLC for the memorial.

Regina Brzozowski, president of Post 8’s Auxiliary, says: “As members of the largest volunteer service organization in the world, we believe it is vitally important to support all female and male disabled veterans, their caregivers and families. The DAVL Memorial is the only one honoring living individuals and has a deep impact on all who see it. We are very privileged to have an opportunity to express our gratitude in this small way to them. We assist Park Ranger Pierce and the National Park Service in maintaining the DAVL Memorial to show our appreciation and to insure their physical and mental sacrifices are not forgotten.”

As for Pierce? He is more than grateful for the way Post 8 turns out to care for the memorial and keeps it gleaming. Paying tribute to the clean-up team members, he said: “They are vital to the work of keeping the memorial looking good. The team is needed because the National Park Service does not have the staff to do that type of work. We rely heavily on volunteer support like theirs.”

Join the Legion. All those serving in the military, veterans, and those with family members who served are eligible to join the American Legion or its allied groups, the SALS (Sons of the Legion) and the Auxiliary (the world’s largest women’s volunteer group). Post 8 is at 224 D St. SE; phone 202-543-9163. Visit the website, www.legiondc8.org; email dcpost8@verizon.net.