D.C. fights for World War I memorial

Balks at plan for national recognition at its Mall location

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“That memorial was built for the people of the District of Columbia,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting member of Congress.

Companion bills by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, and Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican, also would rededicate the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Mo., as the “National World War I Museum and Memorial.”

Ms. Norton sounded the alarm over the D.C. portion of the legislation in August, prompting D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown to say the District “ought not stand by idly and allow our history to be diluted.”

Mr. Fountain is quick to say there is no attempt to change the character of the existing memorial. Instead, he envisions “8-foot bronzes” on either side of the structure or other, minimal adornments.

“It’s a valid debate and I respect and understand the arguments for keeping it a local memorial,” he said. “Our purpose is not to take away the local character. It’s frankly to elevate it, bring more people to this memorial, bring more attention to it — because nobody knew what this was.”

Mr. Fountain said opposition to the effort should have nothing to do with D.C. voting rights.

“Because where have they been all these years as this memorial was falling apart?” he said. “Nothing prevented the District of Columbia government from repairing this memorial. It took a federal agency spending federal funds to do it.”

The D.C. memorial is not the only site in discussions about becoming a national symbol of the Great War.

Joseph N. Grano, president of the Rhodes Tavern-D.C. Heritage Society, said the ideal place for a national memorial would be Pershing Park, which is named for World War I Gen. John J. Pershing. He circulated a photograph Thursday of “an extremely beautiful” World War I memorial in Oak Park, Ill., as an example of what an addition to the park, located on Pennsylvania Avenue about a block from the White House, could look like.

Ms. Norton used the existence of numerous World War I memorials in other states as justification for the District having its own, without making it a national version.

“If they want to have one someplace else on the Mall here, I’ll work with them,” she said as she walked from the memorial.

“If they want it here, I have no disagreement either,” she added with a smile, “so long as it doesn’t block the view of our memorial.”

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