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Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation aims for a monument on the National Mall

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The National Mall in Washington, D.C., features memorials for World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, but no memorial commemorating the longest and most recent U.S. war. Michael "Rod" Rodriguez wants to change that. He's the president and CEO of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation. He is also a combat veteran. Michael, thanks for joining us on this Memorial Day.

MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ: No, thank you for providing me the opportunity to chat with you guys on this sacred day.

MARTÍNEZ: So, OK, the war on terror began after September 11, the attacks on September 11, and didn't end until the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan in 2021. Why do you think it's important to build a memorial for this war?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, I think it's important that we all share a duty within this nation to honor the brave men and women that are willing to step forward and serve and protect the sanctities of liberty that we all enjoy every single day. So, you know, to not honor the two generations that have fought in the current war, because we still have men and women deployed across the globe performing duties in different theaters, you know, it's just a duty we need to fulfill.

MARTÍNEZ: Why do you think it hasn't happened?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, I mean, if you really think about it, it's - we started this in 2015. The foundation came together in 2015. And it's a very long and arduous process, as it should be. This is our nation's front lawn - you know, the National Mall. So we've been at this for about eight years now, and we're really excited to be getting close to the finish line now.

MARTÍNEZ: Do you think it's because people maybe didn't have a sense of it, like, just ending, or just not having a sense of when it would end?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, in - so I'll go into the framework. There was a law that exists that states a war has to be over for a period of 10 years before a national war memorial can be built. And you know, that was something that we, the foundation, came together, recognized, and we passed our first piece of legislation in 2017 seeking the exemption from that law. And so there's a few different obstacles that we have faced. But, you know, we're focused on completing it here pretty soon.

MARTÍNEZ: Michael, what's your vision for the memorial? What would it look like?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, we - it's - we are in the 24-step process to build a national war memorial. We have - now that we've secured our location, which is just north of the Lincoln, off of Constitution Drive - we finally got our spot - we can now move into the design phase. So we are really excited to be, you know, announcing the designer here pretty soon. So my vision is just that, you know, the design team that we pick honors the - makes it the most inclusive, reverent and, you know, welcoming memorial that we could possibly imagine.

MARTÍNEZ: Can you give us a hint of what it might look like, what it might have?

RODRIGUEZ: You know, I can't. I really - we haven't even really got into that quite yet.

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter) OK.

RODRIGUEZ: You know, we want to provide the artist, which is the designer, the opportunity - we give them the guidance, provide input from all of our stakeholders - Gold Star family members, veterans and the like. So we - as an artist myself, I'm kind of staying out of it.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah (laughter).

RODRIGUEZ: So I just want to be sure that we provide the artist the opportunity and the - most importantly, the inspiration to capture, you know, our mission.

MARTÍNEZ: How about this, Michael, then? As an artist yourself and as a veteran, what's the one thing you'd like to see in it somehow, if you could have a choice?

RODRIGUEZ: Water - I would love an element of water. And that's something that we've talked with a lot of our stakeholders - veterans, Gold Star family members, those that have served and their families - and a lot of people feel water. And as humans, we have an affinity for water. Water brings us together. It unites us. It provides that healing aspect, which is, you know, really, really important. So I can say that. I would love to see some water.

MARTÍNEZ: You served during the war on terror. You lost comrades, friends. What would it mean to you to be able to one day be able to visit this memorial?

RODRIGUEZ: That's going to be hard to capture into words. You know, I really think it would provide an opportunity for those of us that have served, those of us that have lost loved ones, to reflect. You know, none of us have ever joined the military for any accolades or anything like that, but just to provide us an opportunity to come together and reflect. And that would be...

MARTÍNEZ: And one last thing, Michael...

RODRIGUEZ: ...Really, really important.

MARTÍNEZ: One last thing - how are you spending this Memorial Day?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, I was - I'm actually in Washington, D.C., so I was blessed to - I'll be having breakfast with the president, first lady and other guests this morning. I was fortunate to be invited to go there. And then today, we'll be playing taps at 5 p.m. at the location.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Michael "Rod" Rodriguez, a combat veteran, president and CEO of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation. Thanks a lot for joining us.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you very much. Hope everyone has a blessed day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.