The Price for Your Dog Tag Has Already Been Paid

By Jan Scruggs

The political season is in full swing nationwide.  This election will be contentious and divisive…and guess what?  They all are.  Opposing sides use their most scathing rhetoric against each other in the primaries and turn the venom on the other party once the general election season kicks off.  For me, this particular election cycle is made even more interesting because of two factors: the “Occupy” movement, and the Tea Party.

We need to better appreciate living in a country where people can vent and vote their ideology at the ballot box or even on talk radio .America was created through the courage and suffering of patriots in a lopsided contest we nearly lost: the Revolutionary War. Since then, we have faced many adversaries – including each other – and the nation has survived.

From around the world, people still flock to become citizens of America, where they can have freedom and a chance to succeed in a nation of laws. Will America survive another political season? The prognosis is excellent. As a native of Washington,DC, I can assure you that we will celebrate and amaze much of the world with an event known as “The Inauguration,” brought about by something we Americans pioneered: democracy.

What does this all of this have to do with a military ID known as a “dog tag?”

Something entirely new is coming to Washington, DC. The Education Center at The Wall will be built near, and work in synergy with, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The visitor, while walking to the site, will make visual contact with the Lincoln Memorial, which stands as a tribute to the repaired national unity after the disastrous Civil War.

The Education Center at the Wall will affect your community. It may even have a direct impact on you personally. Every visitor – about 3 million annually – will be asked to perform some act of civic virtue in their community in exchange for a simple dog tag bearing the name of a man or woman who has given their life in defending America.

People young and old will be given this challenge. Some may volunteer to clean a local park, others might get involved in animal rescue, and others might decide to pay a visit to aging veterans who are in need of company. All of these acts will be electronically recorded, so that future visitors who accept this dog tag will see the many acts that have been done in honor of a fallen hero. In this way, theEducationCenterat The Wall will change and help many lives in large and small ways.

Exhibitions at the Education Center at The Wall will include state-of-the-art technology and will feature some of the 200,000 items left at The Wall since 1982. The photos and the stories of patriots will inspire others to do acts of kindness…maybe even millions of acts of kindness. Every day, thousands of people will be inspired to realize their individual responsibilities and help their fellow citizens.

The Education Center will also be a place of civic reflection, where values like honor, duty, courage, and loyalty will be celebrated. A nationwide grassroots movement is bringing this about. Quietly and effectively, hundreds of thousands of Americans have been taking part in creating the place where America’s legacy of service will be celebrated on The Mall.

Why would visitors want to perform an act of kindness in their communities?  What would inspire them?  What does the dog tag represent?

The Education Center will use powerful images and stories of American heroes from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan who are “forever young.” Their stories will inspire and engage the visitor as he or she learns about heroes such as Tom Bennett. Tom reluctantly ended up in Vietnam as a medic and wrote:

“I will possibly die for a cause I vehemently disagree with… I believe in America … our process of government can respond to people’s needs, if we each assume our responsibility.”

In February of 1969, Tom dragged five wounded American soldiers to safety. This deeply religious soldier would not carry a weapon, but over and over again, kept moving forward and bringing back the injured. It was his responsibility.

Are Americans responsible to our neighbors and community?

Actually we are. Living in a nation blessed with freedom creates a responsibility to become an engaged citizen and to contribute in some way.  This is exactly what Tom Bennett was talking about.

Tom Bennett would probably be practicing medicine today, and bouncing grand kids on his knee, but his life ended that day in 1969 – at age 21 – after only one month in Vietnam. He is a recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Of course, visitors will not be asked to do what Tom Bennett did. Yet they will be inspired by stories like Tom’s, and most will agree to perform an act of civic virtue. Groups like ‘A Thousand Points of Light’ will be able to direct visitors to projects for which they are qualified and in which they are interested.

Inspiration will spring from tragedy. Imagine if you were to receive a dog tag representing Tom Bennett’s service and sacrifice at the Education Center.  As you looked at it, you would read, “He did his duty. Will you do yours?”

Tom’s, and the others whose photos you will view in the Education Center, deserve to be remembered in this way. Please visit www.buildthecenter.org and learn about how to get involved.

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