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Columbia veteran helps make mark with monument

Located near Capitol Hill in Washington, the Disabled Veterans Memorial was opened on Oct. 6.
Located near Capitol Hill in Washington, the Disabled Veterans Memorial was opened on Oct. 6. (Disable Veterans Monument for Life Foundation)

Last month, the Disabled Veterans' Life Memorial Foundation christened the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial near Capitol Hill in Washington.

For the foundation, it marked the culmination of a 16-year planning process. For disabled veterans across the country, including Columbia resident Tom Busch, it marked the beginning of the long overdue recognition for years of sacrifice.

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"It's a constant reminder of the cost of military action," said Busch, 69, who lives in the Evergreens-Columbia Town Center, a 55-plus apartment community in Columbia. "It's unique as a memorial because it doesn't recognize any particular time."

The memorial cost $81.2 million to construct, maintain and preserve – all raised by donations. It was dedicated on Oct. 5 by President Barack Obama at a ceremony attended by 3,000 people, many of whom were disabled veterans. In the crowd was Busch, who was injured while serving in the Navy in 1967 during the build-up to the Arab-Israeli War – a five-day skirmish that resulted in an Israeli victory.

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Busch has another connection to the monument: he helped get it built. Busch served as the foundation's deputy chief operating officer between 2001 and 2006. He came on board as the nonprofit, founded in 1998, was beginning a 24-step approval process for the monument.

Before leaving in 2006 to start his own company, the Columbia-based Allagash Group, Busch helped the project navigate 19 of the 24 steps – an accomplishment he wears like a badge of honor.

"Often times you wonder if you are making any progress," he said. "It's just a delight to see something come to fruition and be completed. And the idea is it will be there in perpetuity."

Busch said his role with the organization early on was getting the nonprofit established.

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"I was involved in association and nonprofit work at the time, and met some individuals who asked me to help get this foundation up and running," he said.

Art Wilson, who has served as president of the foundation since it was conceived, said Busch was brought on to help form the nonprofit in the early years.

"He was involved in the very beginning. We had an executive director that was running the foundation, and he needed some assistance in fundraising and managing the office," Wilson said. "I think he performed very well."

He echoed Busch's frustration with the long approval process, and said, "It's a long and grueling process, but it was worth every bit of it. It's long overdue."

It all begins with getting Congress to approve a bill giving the project the go-ahead. The bill also has to be signed into law by the president.

"That's the biggest hurdle," Busch said.

He said next steps in the process involved getting approval from various government agencies for things including location, design and logistics for the monument. Busch said he and others helped work with elected officials and government agencies and commissions, like the National Parks Service, the National Capital Monuments Commission and the Secretary of the Interior, to get those approvals.

Both Busch and Wilson touted the location of the memorial as optimal.

"It really is a beautiful site; it didn't look like much when we first saw it," Busch said.

Located on two acres at 807 Maine Ave, the monument is within full view of the Capitol, adjacent to the National Mall and across from Independence Avenue and the United States Botanic Garden. It's the closest monument to Capitol Hill, Busch says, and in a place he thinks is "very, very visible to the public."

Another key to the monument was creating a design that was appropriate and innovative. The focal point of the memorial is a star-shaped reflecting pool, its surface broken by a ceremonial eternal flame.

"I think the design is very inviting for what is a difficult subject for a lot of people," Busch said.

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