The Veterans Memorial and Museum has been in development in downtown Columbus since 2015, but last week it added an adjective: It's now the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.
After a push from a bipartisan group of Ohio’s congressional representatives, President Donald Trump signed the "National Veterans Memorial and Museum Act" into law on June 21.
While the act doesn’t give the still-under-construction museum an economic boost, Amy Taylor, one of project's leaders, says it does grant some legitimacy.
“The national designation lends validity to say, ‘We are representative of those more-than-20 million veterans alive today, the 42 million veterans that have ever existed in our country, and we’re trying to tell their story,’” Taylor says. “And we’re proud that it’s here in Columbus.”
Taylor is the COO of the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation, the group behind the museum. She says the project was really begun by the late John Glenn, a veteran, astronaut and longtime Senator from Ohio.
"He put together a group of veterans, every branch, every conflict since World War II to the present," she says. "He really wanted to hear what they wanted. And what they said was that they wanted a museum that had four key pillars, to honor, inspire, connect and educate."
Though Glenn died in 2016, his cause was taken up in the U.S. Senate by both Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown. A companion bill in the House was sponsored by Central Ohio's Reps. Steve Stivers and Joyce Beatty and former Rep. Pat Tiberi, along with the rest of Ohio's congressional delegation.
She says that, though many other memorials, monuments and museums around the country commemorate historical wars and conflicts, the new museum in Columbus will focus on "the individual."
“We talked to 25 veterans and their family members about what it was like to serve, what it was like to take the oath, what it was like leaving home and then coming back,” Taylor says. “And, as you can imagine, their individual experience may widely vary, but it will feel familiar.”
Less than 1 percent of the American population is currently serving in the military - the lowest of any point in American history. Taylor says that means it's the right time for the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.
"So many of these stories from veterans, whether it's the gentleman who served in Pearl Harbor all those years ago, or whether it's the story of someone who serves recently or even presently—they might feel historical in context, but they’re relevant now," Taylor says.
The space will feature classic museum staples, like a timeline of American military service, more than a dozen alcoves centered around themes like military jobs, combat, and returning home, and more personal touches, like letters home written by service members.
“When you read a letter from a Revolutionary War mother to a soldier who left, and an Iraq War mother to her soldier who left—different language, we’ve all advanced in the language, but the emotion that it evokes is the same," she says.
Taylor’s connection to the museum’s subject matter is personal. Her father served in the Navy in the 1960s.
“We’ve had more conversations since I’ve been working on this project than we ever had prior to that,” Taylor says. “So I know personally so it can be that tipping point to starting the conversation.”
Visitors will have that chance in just a few short months, when the memorial and museum opens before Veterans Day this November.