Battle Surfaces Over War Memorial (The Associated Press)

By Caren Benjamin, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – As World War II recedes into history, a battle is shaping up over where to put a memorial to the men and women who fought or supported the war effort at home.

Current plans would put the memorial on a 7 1/2-acre stretch of the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

Critics complain the site is a place that has served as the soapbox of the country, where citizens traditionally have come to air grievances against their government. And it’s among the few green places left on the once-lush strip of central Washington between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial.

“Nothing has touched that Mall except people, marches, demonstrations – Martin Luther King, the 4th of July,” John Graves, a veteran and founding member of the “Veterans to Save the Mall” advocacy group, said in an interview Tuesday.

And on Capitol Hill, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s nonvoting delegate, testified against the monument at a hearing Tuesday. “The last remaining visionary space on the Mall should never be interrupted by the hand of man, however heroic and deserving the purpose,” she said.

The site’s supporters say the space is appropriate.

“No conflict in the 20th century has so dramatically altered history as World War II,” said Bill Smith, director of public affairs for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

So far approximately $92 million has been raised, mostly from private sources, of the estimated $98.2 million necessary to complete the project, the project’s chief fund-raiser, former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, told members of the House Government Reform veterans affairs subcommittee.

Dole, the Republicans’ presidential candidate in 1996, was not involved in site selection.

The first monument design was the rejected because it was so large some felt it could dwarf its surroundings.

The new plan, awaiting final approval, got preliminary approval in 1998 from the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission. It would be installed at the head of the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial and would comprise a sunken plaza surrounded by pillars and two large rainbow-shaped pools. Access would be through two 41-foot-tall arches.

A wall of gold stars will represent veterans killed in the conflict.

“Other available sites were simply not commensurate with the importance of the historical event,” said Charles Atherton, secretary of the arts commission.

“It’s a rather ragged area right now. The pool is not well designed. On the whole I think the memorial is going to be a plus rather than a minus,” he said.

Preservation groups like the capital’s Committee of 100 sees otherwise. “The design looks a lot like the Olympic stadium in Berlin,” said Beth Solomon, a member. “Why are we using these symbols to commemorate ideas we fought against?”