World War I memorial aimed for centennial of armistice

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Members of Congress are pursuing a plan that at long last would establish a national monument to the veterans of World War I in Washington, D.C.

The proposal would rededicate a federal park near the White House as a national World War I memorial and address complaints that veterans of all the 20th century’s major conflicts have been suitably honored in the nation’s capital except for those who fought in “the Great War.”

Organizers hope to redesignate Pershing Park and dedicate a memorial by Nov. 11, 2018, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which marks the end of hostilities on the Western Front of the war, which began in 1914.

The project, if authorized, will be subject to a design competition and could cost about $10 million in private donations, according to Edwin L. Fountain, a member of the World War I Centennial Commission that recommended the site.

“If it gets beyond that, we’re getting too ambitious,” he said in a recent interview.

Proponents of the effort say recognition of those who fought and died in World War I is long overdue. Memorials to World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War are on the National Mall but not a formal tribute to the international conflict that preceded them all.

Congress enacted a law in 2003 that essentially banned new memorials on the Mall, and the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in 2011 marked the coda for large-scale construction.

Pershing Park is outside the “reserve” area, in which new works are banned.

The tree-lined space is named for Gen. John J. Pershing, a distinguished U.S. officer who led crucial campaigns against the German army during World War I. It features a duck pond surrounded by steps and small tables, which attracts tourists and workers looking for a midday respite.

Although Mr. Fountain said efforts to get a spot on the Mall failed, the memorial will still be built on prime real estate.

“Pennsylvania Avenue, after the Mall, is the most significant and symbolic concourse in the nation’s capital,” he said.

While it is unclear what the new memorial will look like, the park’s small ice rink will probably have to go, and the site’s raised perimeter might be opened to appear more inviting, Mr. Fountain said.

The early effort to establish a World War I memorial centered around a push to “nationalize” the D.C. World War I Memorial, a separate edifice tucked in a park between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial that honors D.C. soldiers who fought in the war.

But city officials balked at that idea. By mid-2012, Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican at the center of the hunt for a fitting memorial, said he would look elsewhere for a monument location.

A bill he filed last month with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Missouri Democrat, specifically says the new memorial cannot “interfere with or encroach on” the D.C. memorial. It also says no federal funds may be used to enhance the park at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

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