WASHINGTON — Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole announced a drive Wednesday to raise $100 million for a new World War II memorial and defended its prime National Mall site.
President Clinton chimed in with a letter wishing Dole well "in this noble undertaking." But Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), a Medal of Honor winner in Vietnam, said the memorial would spoil the beauty of the Mall site.
Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee and longtime Kansas senator, said at a ceremony on the 7.4-acre site that the fund-raising effort "will end with a great monument in this great setting."
Dole, whose right arm was permanently disabled by wounds suffered fighting in Italy in 1945, said the memorial is a fitting tribute to a war in which "America saved the world," and a way for aging veterans to "preserve their memory against the tide of time."
Private funds will pay for most of the construction and upkeep for the memorial, which sponsors hope to open on Veterans' Day 2000.
Few disagree with the idea of a World War II memorial but some don't like the chosen site.
Kerrey believes the memorial will overwhelm a green, reflective space, known as the Rainbow Pool, between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.
"Just like Cinderella's stepsisters whose feet were too big for the glass slipper, World War II is simply too big for this site," Kerrey said in a recent letter to the American Battle Monuments Commission. "It will become a World War II mall with Lincoln and Washington at either end."
Kerrey's concerns were echoed in a column by Deborah Dietsch, editor of Architecture magazine, who wrote that the partly sunken, 43,000-square-foot structure with its tall, semicircular colonnades would "ruin one of our nation's cherished vistas" and obstruct some pedestrians' views of the Lincoln Memorial.
Dole told reporters Wednesday that he has written to Kerrey about the objections. Pointing to a row of nearby trees, Dole said the design was proper for the space.
"These trees are 75 feet tall, so we think it's going to work," he said.
The memorial still must gain final approval of the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capitol Planning Commission.