A graduate of George Washington University, Nicholas has also been active in a nonprofit called the Heart of America Foundation, which helps low-income schools and children.

"After Hurricane Katrina, we went down there and gave kids toiletries and books," he said. "We also went into the schools and looked at the libraries. … With the help of corporate partners like Target and Capital One, we got books, renovated the libraries and transformed them into really cool hubs for the schools."

In addition to his military service, the elder Walters has a history of community service as well.

Sanford Walters is a longtime volunteer for the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that helps veterans struggling with homelessness, alcoholism, drug addiction, joblessness and similar challenges.


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"A lot of the people who work and volunteer there are retired military, who want to give back," he said.

Currently, the National Afghanistan and Iraq Veterans Memorial project has a website — http://www.naivm.org — and Nicholas Walters spends much of his spare time raising money and momentum for his dream.

He said his organization is on track to purchase a site in Washington, by the end of next year. He hopes to have a design and break ground on the memorial in about five years.

"Right now we're still in phase one, which is just to raise enough money, about $200,000 to make a payment on one of the sites that we have in mind," he said. "We have a good team of experienced, knowledgeable people on our board who understand Washington, D.C., real estate and politics — and who also understand the nonprofit world."

Personal, not political

Nicholas Walters wants to keep his memorial project from becoming politicized, but he realizes how challenging that can be.

"I remember in my freshman year at George Washington University, 16 years ago, I put up an American flag on the wall above my bed," he recalled. "Right away people said, 'Oh, you're a Republican?'

"That shocked me," he said. "I was 18 years old. I hardly had a political leg to stand on. I was just proud to be an American."

Nicholas and Sanford Walters are both aware the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts are, like Vietnam, mired in controversy and politics. They want to ensure the National Afghanistan and Iraq Veterans Memorial, like the Vietnam War Memorial, will be a place for healing and unity, whenever and wherever it is ultimately built.

"The thing about Vietnam is that it tore some families apart, even my family," Nicholas Walters said.

"Some of my dad's brothers were even against the war," he said. "There really were factions, and it's sad when soldiers are sometimes blamed for things that politicians do.

"It's still a hard road for veterans nowadays, even though they really deserve the best," he said. "After all, most of them went off to war young, with eyes wide open. All they were doing was trying to help us all out.

"They deserve a place that they will be able to come home to and have as a comforting resource, without it being political."