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Virginia War Memorial planning wing for war on terrorism

The Virginia War Memorial is planning an estimated $17 million expansion to honor Virginia’s service members who have died in the global war on terrorism.

Plans for the new wing also call for building a 350-seat auditorium, a roughly 200-space parking deck, a new exhibit gallery and a classroom for long-distance learning.

Enlarging the place of remembrance “furthers the mission of the War Memorial to honor those who have given their last full measure, and the families that have to live with that loss every year and every day,” said C. David Hudgins, board chairman of the Virginia War Memorial Educational Foundation.

Though the state-funded expansion’s details are not fully determined, officials hope to break ground on the project by the end of summer and complete it in 2015, said Jon Hatfield, the memorial’s executive director.

Since its dedication in 1956, the Virginia War Memorial has become more than a stone monument.

Besides honoring Virginians who fell in combat in World War II and subsequent wars, the 4.3-acre site is the venue for commemorative ceremonies, an educational center, a museum of military history, and public meetings.

In 2002, 9,200 people visited the War Memorial. With the addition of its Paul and Phyllis Galanti Education Center, attendance jumped to more than 45,000 in 2011.

The number of visitors had grown to 66,000 last year and is expected to soon reach 100,000 annually.

Several thousand people now attend the major ceremonies, such as those for Memorial Day and Veterans Day, held at the hillside complex at 621 S. Belvidere St. in Richmond. “Our parking lot is full and overflowing about every other day,” Hatfield said. The lot has 54 spaces.

The new parking structure will be located underground — underneath the new wing, which will be where the current parking lot is.

The memorial’s scope has changed over the years. In 1980, its Shrine of Memory was enlarged to honor Virginians killed in action in the Vietnam War. The names of Virginians killed in action during Desert Storm and Desert Shield were added in 1996.

The state has created an interim memorial called the Wall of Honor — now housed in a temporary location at the War Memorial — to commemorate the more than 285 Virginia men and women killed in the war on terrorism.

The War Memorial’s new wing will give a permanent home — comparable to the existing Shrine of Memory — to the state’s recognition of those war dead.

The War Memorial expansion poses two design challenges, said Willard Scribner of Richmond’s SMBW, architects for the project.

“One aspect of the project is to expand the Shrine of Memory with a memorial space that has parity with the spare elegance of the original,” Scribner said. “The second is to create a memorial for a conflict that has not reached an end and has no neatly defined theater of war.”

“We will be seeking a design solution that allows for recognition of the fallen on an annual basis,” Scribner said, “and that does so in a manner that will endure for a hundred years or more.”

Plans call for the new wing to include photos and biographical information for the fallen.

“You suddenly see that the face of war is not just that of young men,” said Army veteran John V. Cogbill III, a member of the Virginia War Memorial Educational Foundation’s board. “It’s men, it’s women, it’s blacks, it’s Latinos. It’s the face of America in all its diversity.”

“It’s much more personal,” Cogbill said. “And you realize that that life was cut short in the service of our country.”

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