A skeptical House subcommittee on Tuesday considered a congressman’s proposal to build a World War I memorial on the Mall using federal land previously closed to future construction.
In a draft bill he introduced to the subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands, Rep. Ted Poe suggested a site for the memorial in Constitution Gardens, north of the Reflecting Pool. But the location, in the “reserve” of the Mall, would require an exemption from a federal law passed in 2003 to prevent further building upon the area. The bill would limit the size of the memorial to no more than 1.5 acres and impose a spending cap of $10 million.
Mr. Poe, Texas Republican, defended the selection of the site and the need for a memorial during Tuesday’s hearing.
“If the World War II generation is known as the greatest generation, the World War I generation — the fathers of the [World War II] generation — should be known as the selfless generation,” Mr. Poe said. He noted that other memorials on the Mall were built at the petition of war veterans, but no survivors of the 1914-1918 conflict remain to make such a demand.
While many agree that a memorial is needed, there is debate over where it should be built.
Judy S. Feldman, president of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, said in prepared testimony that it would be a mistake to exempt the memorial from the moratorium.
“We will continue to see good and understandable proposals for new memorials and museums on the Mall — and the proposed [World War I] Memorial provides one example,” she said. “We have to face facts.”
The draft bill originally proposed to “nationalize” the District of Columbia World War I Memorial already located on the Mall. That plan met opposition from city officials who insisted that the monument should remain a tribute to the 26,000 local veterans of the war.
With respect to the city’s wishes, Mr. Poe rewrote the Frank Buckles World War I Memorial Act, named for the war’s last surviving veteran, to include the new location. He said the monument was something. Buckles supported.
“I got to know Frank Buckles well,” Mr. Poe said. “His dying wish was that we have a memorial on the Mall for World War I veterans.”
The bill also outlines the establishment of a centennial commission to prepare for the upcoming commemoration of the conflict, and it seeks the redesignation of a monument in Kansas City, Mo., to the “National World War I Museum and Memorial.” The bill has received support from Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, Missouri Democrat.
While these other aspects of the bill are largely undisputed, the location of a memorial in the District remains divisive. Stephen E. Whitesell, regional director for the National Park Service, is among those who advocate Pershing Park as an alternative site. Located one block from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue and 14 Street Northwest, the park was named in honor of Gen. John J. Pershing, a venerated American officer from World War I.
“Rather than duplicate this memorial by establishing a new memorial to World War I, the department would encourage enhancement of the World War I Veterans Memorial in Pershing Park,” Mr. Whitesell said in his written statement for the subcommittee.
Edwin L. Fountain, director of the World War I Memorial Foundation, said Pershing Park is only a partial memorial and called it an extremely difficult site.
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