WASHINGTON -- Advocates of a controversial plan to nationalize a monument to District of Columbia troops who died in World War I have surrendered to local opposition and now have their sights on a corner of the National Mall that Congress has said is off limits to new construction.
A House subcommittee is scheduled to hear testimony Tuesday on a draft bill that would establish a commission to plan events for the centennial of World War I and authorize a new memorial to the "war to end all wars." The legislation is being introduced by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), who will testify before the House subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.
District of Columbia officials favored the park dedicated to the 4.7 million Americans who served under Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing in World War I as an alternative to the DC Memorial, which reopened last year after a $3.6 million restoration. Local officials, led by Mayor Vincent Gray and DC Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, strenuously opposed a takeover of the West Potomac Park memorial to the 499 District residents who died for their country despite having no vote in Congress.
"This can't happen," Norton told The Huffington Post last spring of the push by some to co-opt DC'ss war memorial. "The people in the District of Columbia are adamant that it not happen."
The new legislation, which says the National World War I Memorial "may not infringe upon or otherwise adversely impact the District of Columbia War Memorial," marks a victory for Washingtonians.
According to Poe's revamped bill, the national memorial to the war fought between 1914 and 1918 would be located north of the Reflecting Pool and south of Constitution Avenue in a corner of Constitution Gardens. It would be limited to no more than 1.5 acres and would be built with private funds at a cost of no more than $10 million.
But it would also be built in an area of the National Mall that Congress has said is nowoff-limits to new commemorative works. Congress would have to grant an exception to allow yet another memorial on the already crowded Mall.
That's a non-starter for Judy Feldman, president of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall. She supports the Pershing Park location and plans to testify against the new legislation. As she told the Washington Times, “Once one project is exempted, of course the floodgates can open."
David DeJonge, who runs the National World War I Memorial Foundation and had teamed with the daughter of Frank Buckles, the last surviving World War I veteran to rededicate the District monument, welcomed the new Frank Buckles World War I Memorial Act.
"This is exciting for America, DC and most importantly the veterans of WWI," he wrote in an email to HuffPost. "At the end of the day the DC Memorial has been repaired and brought to full honor. Now we can move on to honor the rest of the veterans that served our nation during WWI with this location near the WWII Memorial."
DeJonge, who is working on a documentary about Buckles that he calls "Pershing's Last Patriot," rejected Pershing Park as a suitable location because, despite being next to the White House Visitor Center, it "is a 20 minute walk from the other memorials."