WEST PALM BEACH (CBSMiami/AP) - Lois Pope could have done anything with her National Enquirer fortune. But the former Broadway singer vowed to use her money to help disabled veterans. On Sunday, the philanthropist will witness the opening of a Washington memorial she helped build.
Pope said a 1960s performance at a New York hospital where Vietnam War veterans were recovering sparked her desire to help in their struggle.
While signing "Somewhere" from "West Side Story," Pope remembers stretching out her hand during the line "Hold my hand and we're halfway there," but realized the man on a gurney before her had no hand to hold.
"I was naive and pretty clueless about the devastation," Pope said, "clueless about the horrors."
Pope received another shock years later when she visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to place her hand on the name of her fallen cousin. Standing at her cousin's engraving, she said an amputee beside her struggled to place flowers near a friend's name. As she left, Pope asked a ranger where she could find a memorial dedicated to disabled veterans.
"He said there wasn't one," she said, "and that did it."
Pope managed to get the attention of Jesse Brown, the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary in the Clinton administration, who joined her cause and put her in touch with Art Wilson of the Disabled American Veterans organization. Together, they began the long process of getting the memorial approved and raising more than $80 million to get it built.
Heiress to the National Enquirer, Pope donated $10 million of her own fortune and raised millions more from others.
The result is the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial; a monument of glass walls and bronze sculptures, with a star-shaped fountain and ceremonial flame, all surrounded by a grove of trees near the Capitol. President Barack Obama is expected to attend the dedication ceremony on October 5th .
Pope, who lives in the tiny community of Manalapan, Florida, says the project is all about "thinking and thanking."
Pope said she doesn't want others to be like she once was, clueless to the sacrifice veterans have made. She also hopes the memorial's close proximity to the Capitol will inspire reflection among law makers.
"I want them to know the human cost of war," she said. "I want them to think twice."
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