World War One Memorial should belong to D.C., District residents say

(Photo: WJLA)

The National Mall is home to a memorial honoring the veterans of the Vietnam War, the Korean War and World War Two.

Monday marks the eve of a Congressional hearing aimed at creating a space for veterans of the first World War to be honored. D.C. veterans and residents on Monday joined Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray to oppose H.R. 938, which would re-dedicate the D.C. War Memorial as a national World War I memorial, nationalizing the city's landmark. The House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands will hold a hearing on this bill on Tuesday.

"District of Columbia Mall belongs to the People of the District of Columbia,” Norton said.

The memorial, which was constructed in 1931, was overlooked for decades. The World War One Memorial Foundation says it's pushing to nationalize the memorial with the hope that more people will visit it. But, they argue, politics have gotten in the way.

“As far as I can tell, some people tried to link this to the statehood and voting rights and the next thing we know the council and delegate Norton have withdrawn their support,” said Edwin Fountain, who is the Foundation’s Vice President.

Norton was an honorary trustee for the project and the D.C. Council in 2009 unanimously supported nationalizing the memorial, which was signed by then-chairman and current Mayor Vincent Gray.

"You can responsibly change your position. I cannot imagine just staying with a position simply because you took it in the first place. You learn more that's what people elected," Gray said.

They insist as they learned how D.C. residents raised money to build the memorial, they decided not to support nationalizing the memorial. Last year, Norton introduced a resolution to ensure that the D.C. War Memorial remains dedicated solely to D.C. residents who served in World War One, and to ensure a suitable, separate location be found for a memorial dedicated to all Americans who served in World War One.

The memorial was authorized by Congress and paid for completely by local residents exclusively to commemorate the more than 26,000 D.C. residents who served in World War I, including the 499 who died, more than the number who died from three states, whose names are engraved on the memorial.