U.S. Army troops take a breather while serving during Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait in February, 1991.

U.S. Army troops take a breather while serving during Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait in February, 1991. (Wayne J. Begasse/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — A federal commission on Thursday approved a site on the National Mall for the future National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial after several months of debate over whether to choose another location along the Potomac River.

The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts voted to place it on one-quarter acre at the southwest corner of 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue, a decision celebrated by supporters who advocated for a spot on the National Mall during the three-year site selection process.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Joe Davis, spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, spoke at the commission meeting and urged members to choose the Mall site.

“These men and women who went to Desert Shield, Desert Storm put their lives on the line for this country, and they deserve to be placed next to my brothers and sisters who are on that wall in Vietnam, in World War II and Korea, where I served,” Roe said.

Four members voted in favor of the location, one opposed it and one member abstained from voting. It was a reversal of their decision in March to put the memorial on the Belvedere, a portion of land along the Potomac River at the western end of Constitution Avenue.

The commission was forced to reconsider their previous decision Thursday because another federal board tasked with choosing the memorial location – the National Capital Planning Commission – decided on the 23rd and Constitution site. According to federal statute, both commissions, along with the National Park Service, must agree on a location.

The National Desert Storm War Memorial Association, which is responsible for the planning and construction of the memorial, opposed the Belvedere site because it is difficult to access from other war memorials.

Scott Stump, president of the memorial association, opened the meeting by asking commissioners to watch their presentation with “an open mind and objective eyes.”

Commissioner Elizabeth Meyer, who voted in opposition to the 23rd and Constitution site, asked the National Park Service and Department of Interior to reflect on the long-term vision for the National Mall. She said it should include more than war memorials.

“I’m concerned with the proliferation of war memorials on the National Mall,” Meyer said. “The Mall is public space that symbolizes our collective national identity, and we’re more than wars.”

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 to be completed in 2021.

Now that the location has been approved, the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association will move forward with the memorial’s design and fundraising.

“This has been the longest, daunting, and most enduring part of our endeavor so far,” the association posted Thursday to its website. “It has also been a very rewarding one.” Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.

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