May 16th, 2010
10:47 AM ET

Volunteers gather at neglected WWI monument

American Legion volunteers gathered Sunday at a neglected marble temple on the National Mall to commemorate veterans of World War I, at a site they hope will soon be a national memorial.

The structure from the 1930s was dedicated as a tribute to local troops from the District of Columbia who served in what was called the "Great War." Now, a campaign to turn the site into a national memorial continues to be led by the last living U.S. veteran of WWI, 109-year-old Frank Buckles.

Although the old soldier couldn't make it to Sunday's 75th commemoration, the ceremonies included remarks from National Park Service officials about a $7 million renovation plan scheduled to begin soon.

"We have been wanting for decades to make this look better, and happily now we have the federal funding by which to do it," said Michael Kelly, a park ranger for the National Park Service.

Those involved in efforts to create a national WWI memorial say Buckles' goal is getting closer.

Under compromise Senate legislation in discussion, Congress would be asked to grant "national" status to both the National Mall site and the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri.

"After a few months of going back and forth with the Kansas City people, we have arrived at what seems to be a very simple, and we think appropriate, compromise solution, which is essentially that both sites have national status, as a tribute to all the nation's dead of World War I," said Edwin Fountain, an official with the World War I Memorial Foundation.

Advocates for both proposed memorials believe they deserve national status for a variety of reasons that include boosting the strength of fund-raising appeals.

Although the name of the Liberty Memorial makes no direct reference to WWI, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri, said it was dedicated in 1924 as "the national World War I monument, not for Kansas City, Missouri, but for the entire nation." The Liberty Memorial site includes the National World War I Museum.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, had countered that a national memorial should be located in the national capital.

"I realize others have their views, but this, this is Washington, D.C.," Rockefeller said in support of the D.C. Memorial at a congressional hearing last year.

Kelly echoed similar sentiment. "This memorial is by far one of the more essential in American history," said Kelly.

Buckles has bipartisan support among senators pushing for the Washington location. Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, told the same hearing last year that "we have what we call the Memorial Triangle on the National Mall today - World War II, Korea, Vietnam (memorials) - and so I think it's fitting that all the great wars of the 20th Century have their place on the National Mall." Thune, Rockefeller and Senator Jim Webb, D-Virginia, have introduced a bill that Fountain hopes will pass before the summer recess.

Speaking to the gathered crowd Sunday, Fountain said, "It is my great hope that next year, if I'm invited back to speak to you all again, I'll be able to report that we have passed the Frank W. Buckles World War I Memorial Act."

Buckles joined the U.S. Army as a teenager and rose to the rank of corporal. His assignments included driving an ambulance in Europe. In recent years, he has traveled from his West Virginia home to Washington several times to make his appeal that his comrades deserve national recognition alongside other war memorials in the nation's capital.

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Filed under: Military • Veterans
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. UH60L

    " engraved with all the years (if any) when America was not at war."

    Your kidding, right? I mean really, you think there has never been a time when we were not at war with someone (and no, the cold war doesn't count).

    You want to spend alot of money and time dedicating a memorial to ..... well, nothing, to just living our lives. Well that really doesn't make sense. War memorials are so we never forget the sacrifice and honor our armed forced displayed wuring combat. What does a "peace memorial" commemorate?

    May 17, 2010 at 2:11 am | Report abuse |
  2. dawn

    I support a memorial to WWI but I don't understand how some poster blames Bush/Cheney for its disrepair and lack of funding. What about all the Presidents and congresses before Bush?? This has been an issue long before Bush/Cheney came into power. Did President Clinton and his congress spend any money? Did any prior Democratic President spend money on this memorial? Just asking 'cause it is best to keep to the facts when you go on a rant.

    May 17, 2010 at 2:52 am | Report abuse |
  3. Terrie

    This World War Memorial in Washington DC has been a favorite of mine since we discovered it about 15 years ago. At that time, it was overgrown and it was truly a discovery. We try to visit it whenever we are in DC. Two or three years ago I was so glad to see that the area had been cleared of litter, the shrubs pruned, the pathway to it and grounds around it maintained, and the installation of some explanatory signage.
    To call it a "little, local monument" (Jackie Crouch comment) is disrespectful; this monument is in our nation's capital, and should be considered the entire nation's "local" monoument. To call it a "pretender" is incomprehensible. Granting it national monument status in no way reduces the respect to be paid to the Kansas City Liberty Memorial. And while I'm sure a great number of people visit the Kansas City site, how many more visit Washington, DC, and how much more recognition and remembrance of The World War will be made at that location?
    It is easy to "forget" WWI, as those veterans are so few, however it is an important reminder of the hope that it would be "the war to end all wars." There are few enough of them to thank, as has become the custom when making the acquaintance of a veteran.
    There is sufficient division among people in this nation. Our veterans served all of us. They served us in the mission to permit this discussion to occur.
    Let us remember all of them in the capital of the nation they served. Let this be our national thank you to them, and our national "welcome home."

    May 17, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jackie Couch

      Terrir, The monument in Washington D.C. was always intended to honor the local men and women who served and sacrificed for us in WWI just as hundreds of other communities across America have done through-out our history. I honor and respect the original sentiments intended in it's creation.

      My point is that here in the Heartland of America we have never stopped honoring them. The Liberty Memorial and the WWI museum here in Kansas City, MO has never fallen into disrepair and is visited daily.

      Take a few moments, if you will, to visit their website at http://www.theworldwar.org/s/110/new/index_community.aspx and I hope you'll see that elevating the D.C. monument will be disrespectful to the monument that the soldiers you say we've neglected to honor loved and visited and have contributed to.

      In the front of the Museum there is a walkway made from bricks signifying that donations have been made by soldiers and their loved ones from all over the world to our National WWI memorial. How can we now tell them that we've changed our minds and decided that the Washington D.C. monument is the National monument and now they should send their donations there.

      And as for the respect deserved by the people of Washington, if they'd wanted to honor the nations soldiers they could have and to some extent have done so. But they made the collective decision that they wanted to honor their own. Is that so wrong? If someone came to me and said that my mother's tombstone simply because of it's location, was now going to honor everyone's mother I think I'd be offended that my mother's memory and my intent upon placing her memorial were to be disregarded.

      In all of the decades from WWI to now, there have been millions of American citizens who for whatever reason weren't able to visit D.C. that were still able to visit a National War Memorial in theior own backyard.

      When did the word local become degrading? Our forefathers fought very hard to prevent centralized control of the Government and our doughboys fought and died defending their concept of freedom. Now you and those like you want to, for no other reason than convenience, want to tell the doughboys, and their living families that their memorial, the one they chose, the one they paid for is not official anymore.

      May 17, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
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