- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2007

A senator has introduced legislation that would prohibit the Army from replacing the 71-year-old marble sarcophagus marking the Tomb of the Unknowns before submitting to Congress a report on the feasibility of repairing the monument.

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat and chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced the measure Thursday as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.

“The senator wants to make sure before anything irrevocable is done, that we cross all our t”s and dot all our i”s,” said Akaka spokesman Jon Yoshimura.

The Washington Times reported Thursday that the Army was leaning toward replacing the 48-ton white marble monument at Arlington National Cemetery because of several non-structural cracks that officials say diminish its aesthetics.

An Army official said in an e-mail obtained by The Times that a decision was expected by the end of the month.

Sen. James H. Webb Jr., Virginia Democrat, co-sponsored the amendment but said through a spokeswoman that he was not “taking sides” on the issue.

“It was just to slow down the process and bring a report to Congress,” said Webb spokeswoman Kimberly Hunter.

Mr. Akaka’s amendment would give the secretaries of the Army and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs six months to jointly submit a report to Congress on replacement and repair options.

Mr. Yoshimura said that Mr. Akaka knew the Army had accepted public comment on the plan, but he added that the Army’s notification schedule did not include Congress and that “very few people knew about it.” He said Mr. Akaka found out about the plan last month.

The National Historic Preservation Act requires administrators of sites that are included in or eligible to be included in the National Registry of Historic Places to study the effect of improvement projects. The act does not require a review to be submitted to Congress.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which advocates repairing the marble structure, criticized the Army for its handling of the issue. Representatives of the group said the Army began its review in 2004 but did not ask the National Trust to comment until June.

A spokesman for the group said that shortly after advising against the replacement plan in July to Arlington National Cemetery Superintendent John Metzler, preservationists were told the replacement plan had prevailed.

National Trust President Richard Moe said his organization supports Mr. Akaka’s amendment.

“It shows the depth of the feeling that people have about the memorial,” Mr. Moe said. “I hope the Army decides on its own not to proceed.”

The monument has been patched repeatedly, most recently in 1989. But a 1990 report concluded the cracks would only worsen. Mr. Akaka’s amendment also requires the report to explain why repairs have not been performed since then.

Army spokesman Paul Boyce said yesterday that officials “will continue to work closely with Congress” on plans for the monument.

“We will take a look at the legislation and take appropriate action,” he said.

Mr. Boyce would not say whether the Army would suspend plans to replace the monument while the legislation is pending, but he said that if it is passed, the Army would follow the law.

The amendment would not stop Army officials from acquiring a new block of marble for the monument. An Army spokesman said Wednesday that the quarry that supplied the marble for the existing monument has offered to donate a new block.

The 200 acres of land around Arlington’s Custis-Lee Mansion were designated a military cemetery in 1864. More than 300,000 people are buried there, making it the second-largest national cemetery in the country, according to the cemetery’s Web site. The largest of the 130 national cemeteries is the Calverton National Cemetery, on Long Island, near Riverhead, N.Y.

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