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Drive launched to open war veterans museum in D.C.

WASHINGTON — Jill Biden and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta helped launch an effort Wednesday to build an education center at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that would tell the stories of generations of veterans killed in combat, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

They gathered with military families for a ceremonial groundbreaking on a site next to the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall for the $85 million museum. Organizers still must raise $38 million before construction can begin.

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The veterans group that built the Vietnam memorial hopes to open the center in 2014 to welcome the last troops home from Afghanistan.

Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, said it is important to have a place that explains what war memorials represent.

‘‘There are many Americans who don’t know anyone in the military,’’ she said. ‘‘That’s why the education center is so important to me. It will help ensure that our veterans will always be remembered, not just in name but by their actions.’’

Each of the 58,000 fallen soldiers listed on the Vietnam memorial wall will be pictured in the center with details about their lives. Some of the 400,000 mementos left at the memorial wall since it opened in 1982 will be displayed there.

The group that built the Vietnam memorial said earlier this year it is expanding the scope of the planned education center to honor more recent servicemembers, well before they have a memorial of their own.

More than 6,600 US soldiers killed since 9/11 will be pictured alongside their predecessors who served in Vietnam. Exhibits could feature the last battle flag brought home from Iraq and history dating to the American Revolution.

Panetta said it will be a ‘‘national landmark’’ remembering all veterans, including the 9/11 generation, which has fought in the nation’s longest time of warfare. ‘‘The lessons of war that we have learned must never, ever be forgotten,’’ Panetta said.

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