- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Advocates for adding a visitors center to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial told lawmakers yesterday the site is needed to educate the public and provide amenities, despite concerns that the National Mall is already overcrowded.

“The new center … will offer restrooms and a place to sit down,” William P. Lecky of Ai Architects and designer of the proposed center told members of the Senate subcommittee on National Parks. “More importantly, it will offer a profound educational experience … as well as helping youngsters better understand the history and significance of Washington’s most visited memorial.”

Though Mr. Lecky said he doubted people would disagree, any plan to put more monuments or visitors centers on the Mall will likely face opposition.

In fact, organizers of a different project to honor servicemen and women killed in peacekeeping efforts, said at yesterday’s hearing they want their memorial elsewhere.

“It is important to note that we are not seeking a site on the Mall for this memorial,” said Dave Enzerra, a trustee with the Pyramid of Remembrance Foundation. “We intend to collaborate fully with the Department of Defense and other entities to find a suitable location elsewhere within the District of Columbia.”

The National Park Service, which maintains the Mall, gave cautious support to the proposed center but had concerns.

This center is viewed as “problematic,” said P. Daniel Smith, special assistant to the director of the National Park Service. “We believe it is vitally important that nothing detract from the powerful emotion that the memorial evokes,” he said of the stark, black granite monument, also known as the Wall.

U.S. leaders recognized the impending problem of too many memorials more than 15 years ago when they drafted the Commemorative Works Act, signed by President Reagan in 1986, to limit new construction.

However, exceptions have already been made, including one for the National World War II Veteran’s Memorial that is scheduled to open next summer.

“We are not opposed to the concept of the [visitors] center,” said George Oberlander of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall. “We oppose additional manmade structures on the open space of the National Mall, which is a one-of-a-kind natural resource.”

Mr. Lecky said plans for the Vietnam center would respect the hallowed ground of the memorials and not detract from the scenic nature of the Mall.

The plans call for a multilevel building, built mostly or entirely underground, that includes elevators to accommodate visitors in wheelchairs.

“We envision a visitors center tucked in the woods, where the trees will block more of the vistas than the memorial would,” he said.

Plans for the peacekeepers’ Pyramid of Remembrance are not final.

Mr. Enzerra said his group is asking national business leaders to help with fund raising and that money for the memorial would come largely from the private sector. He said group members are seeking advice from other groups, including those that worked on the National World War II Memorial Foundation.

The Pyramid of Remembrance concept was created by students at Riverside High School in Painesville, Ohio, who were disturbed by the images of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu when troops were taking part in a peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

The Department of Interior, which has oversight of the National Park Service, wants the memorial on a military installation or at Arlington National Cemetery.

However, the Department of Defense flatly rejected the suggestion yesterday and said other options need to be explored.

A memorial such as this should not be placed on a military base “where by definition its access would be restricted, and therefore would impede availability to the public,” said the agency’s Raymond F. DuBois. “And Arlington Cemetery, like the Wall, is running out of room.”

Senators will review the comments and vote sometime later this summer on the proposed legislation. Also discussed yesterday was the idea of easing some of the eligibility requirements for names to be placed on the wall, something Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, said he supported.

“Some of these so-called eligibility requirements leave a bad taste in my mouth,” said Mr. Campbell, Colorado Republican and Korean War veteran. “The only eligibility requirement was they had when you signed up was you had to be 18, in good health, no criminal record, and unspoken rule was you had to be willing to die.”

But Mr. Smith said the memorial is tight and has room for only 24 more names. As a result, changes to the rules would likely affect its aesthetics.

“Potential changes to the Wall carry a substantial risk of diminishing the power of the this memorial,” he said.

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