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WW I vets won't be forgotten as lawmakers OK centennial memorial

December 13, 2012|By Richard Simon
  • Founders of the WWI Memorial Foundation are hoping that a memorial to American soldiers who served in the war can be built on the National Mall.
Founders of the WWI Memorial Foundation are hoping that a memorial to American… (Tyrone Tyler / Los Angeles…)

WASHINGTON — Gen. John J. Pershing stands alone in his namesake Pershing Park, a little-noticed memorial in the nation's capital honoring Americans who fought in World War I.

But he soon may have company.

The House has voted to establish a commission to plan events commemorating the centennial of World War I and authorize a privately funded national memorial to the doughboys in the District of Columbia. 

Edwin Fountain, a Washington attorney and a founder of the World War I Memorial Foundation, expressed disappointment that the measure does not direct that the memorial to be built on the National Mall, near memorials to veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. He said he would seek to change the legislation in the Senate. But prospects for final action this year are uncertain because only a few days remain in the congressional session.

"If you put the World War I memorial somewhere else, you are sending an implicit message that the sacrifice of those veterans is somehow less worthy of commemoration than that of the other wars," he said, "and you are taking away the opportunity to tell that part of the story of the 20th century in one place.’’

A spokeswoman for Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), the bill’s chief sponsor, said it is the congressman’s intention that the memorial be located on the mall. The measure passed on a voice vote Wednesday. 

Poe brought to the House floor a picture of Frank Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of World War I, who advocated for a national World War I memorial before dying last year at age 110.

"The worst casualty of war is to be forgotten,” Poe said. “Today, the House let the world know that we will never forget the heroes of World War I.’’

"It’s just a fitting, timely thing that we finally say thank you, we finally recognize this group of men who fought a terrible war, who fought a war that so many had hoped would be the war to end all wars,’’ added Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), who spoke of his grandfather’s old doughboy helmet as one of his family’s prized possessions.

Proponents of a national World War I memorial earlier called for turning the often-overlooked District of Columbia War Memorial on the mall -- which honors only D.C. residents who fought in the war -- into a national memorial. But the idea to broaden its purpose faced strong local opposition. 

Some have expressed concern about placing another memorial on the mall, suggesting a better place for a World War I memorial would be in Pershing Park near the White House, where General of the Armies Pershing’s statue stands along with artwork detailing the major battles in World War I that involved U.S. troops.

World War I began in 1914 and ended in 1918. It took the lives of as many as 10 million soldiers, including more than 116,000 Americans.

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richard.simon@latimes.com

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