- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2000

Vocal veteran and civic groups that opposed the site and design of the World War II Memorial throughout its planning stages are making a last effort to block construction.

Opponents yesterday filed papers asking for an injunction to prevent groundbreaking between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, scheduled for Veterans Day.

The lawsuit challenges approval and environmental procedures, charging that Clinton administration officials violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Commemorative Works Act and the National Preservation Act.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, charges that officials tried to "sneak" the memorial past the public into its current proposed location.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and J. Carter Brown, chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts, are named as defendants, along with federal agencies.

"This memorial is the product of a corrupt process managed by officials who have acted as though they are above the law," said plaintiff John Graves, an infantryman in the European theater and co-chairman of World War II Veterans to Save the Mall.

The group, a loose coalition that claims "hundreds of thousands" of members formed this year with the sole purpose of keeping the memorial off the Mall, a spokesman said. Other plaintiffs include the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, the Committee of 100 and the D.C. Preservation League.

"We cannot let government officials blatantly violate our laws and we will not let them destroy the Mall," Mr. Graves said at a news conference on the approved memorial site.

The American Legion, a supporter of the project, quickly fired back, organizing leaders of major veterans' groups yesterday to invoke patriotism at their own news conference.

Ray G. Smith, national commander of the 2.8 million-member American Legion, said U.S. fighters of World War II are dying at a rate of about 1,200 a day. When he travels the country, he said, veterans tell him they want to live to see the $100 million memorial built.

"The American people want this memorial built and the [Mall] site is the most appropriate for it," Mr. Smith said. "We trust the courts will let the will of the people stand."

The project has endured 18 public hearings since President Clinton dedicated the site in 1995.

The National Capital Planning Commission, which must approve all monuments built on the Mall, approved the plans Sept. 21 by a 7-5 vote after more than 100 supporters and critics testified.

Earlier, the Commission of Fine Arts gave the memorial plans a favorable vote. Mr. Babbitt, integral throughout the process, must sign the construction permit.

While veterans and politicians agree on the need to salute the 16 million men and women who served in the military services during World War II especially the 400,000 who died they do not agree on the current proposal.

Opponents insist the memorial, to sit on 7.4 acres at the Rainbow Pool at the east end of the Reflecting Pool, will disrupt the open vistas between the Lincoln and Washington monuments.

These detractors call the design "frightening," "vacuous" and something resembling architecture from Nazi Germany.

The finished monument would resemble an oval with a sunken plaza and a 43-foot arch at the north and south ends commemorating the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of war. The center would be 6 feet deep, and 56 17-foot pillars would outline the oval.

In addition, the memorial would feature a Wall of Freedom with gold stars commemorating soldiers and sailors who died.

The memorial fund-raising campaign has received financial support from half a million Americans, hundreds of corporations and foundations, 47 state legislatures and more than 450 veterans groups representing 11 million veterans, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission, the government agency selected by Congress to head up the effort.

"It is only right that this memorial be the only 20th-century event centered on the Mall," said John F. Gwizdak, commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

A groundbreaking ceremony with Mr. Clinton, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and actor Tom Hanks in attendance is planned for Nov. 11 at the Rainbow Pool.

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