Commission votes against National Mall site for Desert Storm memorial
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 16, 2018
WASHINGTON – The location of the future Desert Storm War Memorial remains unclear after one of the commissions tasked with choosing the site voted against organizers’ top choice Thursday.
The U.S. Commission on Fine Arts voted 5-1 to build the memorial at a waterfront location on the historic Belvedere, a portion of land at the western end of Constitution Avenue in Northwest Washington. They noted the site’s visual connection to Arlington National Cemetery, which is across the Potomac River.
“That was not the one we were hoping for,” said Scott Stump, president of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association.
Stump and other memorial organizers met with the Commission on Fine Arts three times in the past year to present their case for a memorial location on the National Mall near 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue.
President Donald Trump signed a resolution in March 2017 approving a Desert Storm and Desert Shield memorial on federal land in Washington. The association is responsible for all aspects of the memorial, including fundraising, design and construction. The memorial is expected to be completed by 2021 and cost about $25 million.
At a hearing in October, historians, lawmakers and retired four-star Army Gen. Ronald Griffith pleaded with commissioners, arguing the new memorial deserved a close connection to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall.
“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 in October. “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.’”
Though the Commission on Fine Arts voted against that idea Thursday, the National Capital Planning Commission also has a say. Both commissions must approve of the memorial’s location and design.
The National Capital Planning Commission is expected to take up the issue April 5 at its next meeting. In December, the NCPC said the waterfront site – selected by the Commission on Fine Arts – is challenging to access and “has limited opportunity for contemplative space.” However, like the Commission on Fine Arts, the NCPC highlighted its connection to Arlington National Cemetery.
Thomas Luebke, secretary of the Commission on Fine Arts, said if the commissions disagree about the site, “it will have to be worked out” with memorial organizers and stakeholders.
Stump said Thursday that he and other organizers were considering other options, which include consulting with the National Park Service.
Stump has been involved in the effort to build the National Desert Storm Memorial for eight years, and narrowing down potential sites has taken more than two years. The group of organizers started with 100 locations.
“It’s not a done deal at this point,” Stump said. “There’s a lot of people wanting to know what’s happening. It’s a little bit frustrating. However, I’m confident that the process will work itself through and that it’s going to come out in our favor.”
Organizers were at least pleased, Stump said, that the commission didn’t vote for their least favorite option: a site at Walt Whitman Park on E Street NW.
A final design for the memorial is also uncertain.
Arguing against the waterfront site selected by the Commission on Fine Arts, Stump said there would be a symbolic disconnect between the view of the Potomac River and what troops experienced in the desert of Saudi Arabia.
Organizers want the memorial to include elements that would remind visitors of the Kuwaiti desert. A proposed design includes a curved limestone wall enveloping an inner memorial space.
The National Park Service is asking for public input on what the memorial should look like. Through April 13, anyone can offer their opinions on the design by going to parkplanning.nps.gov. A public meeting to discuss the design is set for March 27 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at 2020 K Street NW in Washington.