But a curious part of my study of life and death didn’t happen at the bedside of veterans. It happened when I fell in love with a building that symbolized what Veterans Day is all about.
This curious part started last summer. As I left the VA campus — drenched with a brew of hospice emotions — I cast a caring eye to the Wadsworth Chapel. There it perched, overlooking one of the most prestigious VAs in the country.
Such a loving look was rare for the Wadsworth Chapel because most people don’t want to notice it — and for good reason. For those who served God and Country the peeling paint is not only unsightly, it’s humiliating.
Built in 1900, the Wadsworth Chapel is the oldest remaining building on Wilshire Boulevard. It was constructed as part of original VA campus, founded in 1888 as a National Soldiers Home, a place to care for disabled veterans of the Civil War.
On the inside, the Wadsworth had dual sanctuaries separated by a double brick wall. At the north end, old soldiers worshiped in a Catholic chapel; at the south end, they prayed as Protestants.
There, soldiers from the North and South came together as Christians and Americans. Under one roof they prayed. Under one roof they healed.
Sadly, in 1971 the Wadsworth Chapel took a direct hit. It was damaged in the Sylmar earthquake — and after decades of service — closed its doors.
A year later the Wadsworth Chapel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board described it as the “most monumental complex of Shingle-style Queen Anne structures ever constructed in the Los Angeles area.”
Now, to see this beautiful Victorian style chapel, as eloquent as the era in history it represents, not be a beacon of light to veterans who pass by, is a moral disgrace. Instead of glorifying this country by radiating the beliefs of the founders, it sits alone and forgotten, left to a bygone era, where many veterans find themselves today. This is unacceptable.
So I went on a quest to preserve the Wadsworth Chapel because history and honor must be remembered. But the avalanche of bureaucracy rocked my world.
After more than a hundred phone calls, dozens of emails and 12 congressional office meetings, I realized the bowels of bureaucracy can be a sinister beast. Although everyone agreed painting the chapel was a good idea, renovating the chapel — a 12 million dollar project — was too expensive to pursue. The bureaucracy, ever hesitant to commit to anything, thought the project was all or nothing.
But Dannion Brinkley, three time best selling author and Marine, led the charge to take the first step towards preservation.
“I, like many veterans, don’t support diverting VA resources away from providing the much needed services for veterans. Instead, I support a community solution, where we take the first step — slowing the external deterioration through a protective coat of paint.”
And Dannion was right. The Wadsworth Chapel doesn’t need to be renovated, it needs to be preserved. It needs to be remembered as what it is — a moral compass to honor, glory and faith.
Through this adventure I realized what it means to put into action the values that made this country great. And what it means to be a caregiver, preserver and defender to the moral integrity of this country.
Listening to the veteran presentations at the Long Beach City College — including a cake cutting to celebrate the 236th Marine Corps birthday — assured me my efforts to preserve the Wadsworth Chapel are in line with the highest values of this country. From 19 to 91, these men and women from every branch of the military, including Tuskegee Airman Ted Lumpkin, inspired me to put the words of the Oaths of Enlistment and Office into action.
I will succeed at this mission. So help me God.
This Veterans Day please take a moment to say a prayer and do something for veterans like Dannion, Ted, and all the men and women who need to know that honor, faith and their service are not forgotten.
As for me, this article is one step closer to preserving the Wadsworth Chapel. I ask for your support and prayers because this Veterans Day, In God We Trust, is alive and well.
Published on the HuffingtonPost, 11/11/11