Advocates fight for Desert Storm memorial site near National Mall
WASHINGTON — Retired four-star Army Gen. Ronald Griffith made an impassioned case Thursday for the new National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial to be placed near the National Mall, adjacent to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Griffith, who served 37 years active duty and ended his career as the Army’s vice chief of staff, completed two combat tours during the Vietnam War and later commanded the 1st Armored Division during Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield.
“The leaders who served in Desert Storm, we were all low-ranking to mid-grade officers during the Vietnam War, and we drew some lessons,” Griffith said. “I would love to be able to have that monument somewhere that I could walk from where we left our buddies in Vietnam to the memorial that says, ‘Here is where we ended up. This is where we left it.’”
Griffith and members of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association presented their arguments Thursday to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which is tasked with selecting a site for the memorial.
Association members went into the meeting hoping the commission would choose a location at 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue – the option closest to the Mall. Instead, commissioners asked them to develop three design proposals for three different sites.
Besides 23rd and Constitution, the association will create more detailed proposals for Walt Whitman Park on E Street and on the waterfront at the western end of Constitution Avenue. Association members will return to the commission sometime in the next few months to go over the sites again, said Scott Stump, president of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association.
“We’ve put a ton of effort in,” Stump said. “We have one last hurdle to climb, and that’s the Commission on Fine Arts. We’re trying to bring this thing home at this point.”
President Donald Trump signed a resolution in March approving a Desert Storm and Desert Shield memorial in Washington. The association is responsible for all aspects of the memorial, including fundraising, design and construction. It’s estimated to cost about $25 million and be finished in 2021.
The association’s sites gained the approval of the National Capital Planning Commission and National Park Service, but the Fine Arts Commission has to approve one location before a design can be completed.
Stump has been involved in the effort for seven years, and narrowing down potential sites has taken more than two years. The group started with 100 locations.
On Thursday, two historians – Thomas Keaney with Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and Jeffrey Engel with Southern Methodist University -- presented the case for the memorial’s close connection to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
“I argue this represents the true pivot point in American history, not only removing us from the legacy of the Vietnam War but as a true end to the Cold War,” Engel said. “It was the Gulf War victory when the U.S. was able to feel again that it had a purpose and mission in the world. It signifies in many ways the end of the 20th century.”
Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., submitted a video to the commission, asking the memorial be placed at the association’s favored site at 23rd and Constitution.
Commissioner Toni Griffin asked that association members consider Walt Whitman Park because it could be large enough for this memorial and any future memorials commemorating current wars. In August, Trump signed legislation allowing for a Global War on Terror memorial in Washington. A site for that memorial also has not been selected yet.
Alan Harwood, who is with the engineering firm working on the project, argued Walt Whitman Park had too much noise from surrounding traffic and not enough connection to other memorials. The park is about one-half mile north of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
A few commissioners want the association to look at a waterfront site, one-half mile west of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Stump argued there would be a disconnect between the view of the Potomac River and what troops experienced in the desert of Saudi Arabia.
Thursday was the second time that the association members have appeared before the commission. The first was in July, when commissioners criticized the 23rd and Constitution site because of planned flood control efforts in the area. After that, the association scaled down the memorial to take up only one-quarter acre of the plot.
“Our willingness to substantially scale down this proposed footprint shows our flexibility and commitment to establish a memorial that is as correct in location as in design,” Stump said. “We believe the site is of paramount importance.”