- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Members of Congress said Tuesday they want to rededicate a federal park near the White House as a national World War I memorial, an attempt to quiet 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.”

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s non-voting congressional representative, said a bipartisan bill to redesignate Pershing Park as the official memorial to the 1914-1918 conflict formally halts efforts to co-opt the D.C. World War I Memorial, a separate edifice tucked in a park between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.

The new 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 an interview.

Organizers hope to dedicate the memorial by Nov. 11, 2018, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which marks the end of the war’s hostilities on the Western Front.

Mr. Fountain previously pushed to use the D.C. memorial as the national site because it is near other major tributes to foreign wars on the National Mall. But Mrs. Norton and city officials staved off efforts to “nationalize” the city-oriented site.

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.

The bill he filed this week 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 in Northwest.

The tree-lined space is named for General 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 that attract tourists and workers looking for a midday respite.

“Although Pershing Park was intended to be a national memorial to World War I veterans, it has not been given its proper recognition, honor and care, in part because most of the veterans it honors are long dead and are a part of the nation’s history,” Mrs. Norton said. “However, Pershing Park, which is beautiful and centrally located near the White House, will now get the attention it deserves.”

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, a Democrat, called the effort “appropriate.”

“I think Pershing Park is a beautiful park,” he said, adding that the park already includes information about the war, and the creation of a memorial there could help to reverse some “deferred maintenance.”

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.

But 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 area, or “reserve,” where new works are banned.

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 legislation also dedicates the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City as the “National World War I Museum and Memorial.”

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, both of Missouri, introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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