Tom Howell for The Washington Times, December 31, 2012:
Congress approved a bill on Monday that makes sure the 100-year anniversary of World War I is recognized in the coming years, but a long-sought memorial to Americans who fought and died in the Great War is not part of the deal.
Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican, said he will reintroduce a bill in the new Congress to honor the “doughboys” who joined the overseas conflict in 1914-1918 with a memorial on the Mall in the nation’s capital. The measure found favor in the House in December but failed to cut a clean path through the Senate in the hectic final weeks of the 112th Congress.
The House passed a bill in early December that would establish a congressional commission for the war’s centennial, approve a memorial on the Mall and redesignate the Liberty Memorial of Kansas City as the “National World War I Museum and Memorial.”
But, Mr. Poe said, objections in the upper chamber led Missouri senators Claire McCaskill, Democrat, and Roy Blunt, Republican, to amend the bill in late December,a tumultuous period dominated by talk of the “fiscal cliff.” The Senate approved only a centennial commission and the House concurred on Monday, leaving hopes for a D.C. memorial in the lurch.
“That’s right —it was a casualty of war,” Mr. Poe said in a recent interview.
Mr. Poe and advocates have pushed for a World War I Memorial alongside the trio of memorials to other major 20th century conflicts — World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War.
“We need the fourth,” the congressman said. “It needs to be on the Mall somewhere.”
On the House floor Monday, he said “time is short” to plan for the centennial that kicks off in 2014. Many European allies have already planned events to recognize the notable anniversary of the conflict, he said.
David DeJonge, president of the National World War I Memorial Foundation, said he is disappointed that the memorial was cut out of this year’s deal because it “puts us behind the gun as the centennial approaches.”
He said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Mr. Poe’s renewed effort will bear fruit with a boost from President Obama and popular opinion.
The path to this point took a circuitous route. Mr. Poe decided to submit a revised version of his bill in September, after D.C. leaders objected to a plan to “nationalize” the District of Columbia War Memorial that is dedicated to city residents who fought and died in the war.
The bill sought an exemption to a 2003 law that prohibits new commemorative works on a key cross section of the Mall, a potential sticking point that arose during testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee. Nonetheless, the bill advanced to the House floor.
While the location of a memorial has not been settled, Mr. Poe at one point recommended a site in Constitution Gardens — located north of the Reflecting Pool near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — where munitions and administration buildings once stood to assist American efforts during World War I.
Local advocates have argued Pershing Park, located blocks from the White House and named for Gen. John J. Pershing of World War I fame, is the ideal location for a national memorial.
But Mr. Poe and other advocates have pushed for a high-profile spot along the heavily-trafficked portion of the Mall, noting more than 116,000 Americans died in World War I.
Before its initial passage in the House, Mr. Poe bill was amended to decrease the memorial’s recommended size to a half-acre and specify that while the memorial can be built on the Mall, it does not have to be placed in Constitution Gardens.
“The bottom line is it makes no difference where it is on the Mall,” Mr. Poe said. “We’re not talking about a lot of land.”