Congress created exceptions to the law Tuesday to authorize a choice spot on the National Mall for a Global War on Terror Memorial to honor those who served in the nation's longest conflict, which is symbolically bookended by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the disastrous fall of Kabul, Afghanistan, in August.
"Now we definitely have our work cut out for us," said former Army Capt. Marina Jackman, president of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation.
The authorization was only the opening move in a 24-step process, including approvals from the National Capital Planning Commission, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the National Park Service and other agencies before the monument can be built.
The foundation also will have to come up with a design to memorialize a war that was launched to avenge the worst attacks on American soil, rout "evildoers" and remake nations, but left many in the general public and veterans to question whether the price in blood and treasure was worth the effort.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, at a joint Pentagon press briefing with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sept. 1, acknowledged the doubts but said there was "one thing I am certain of. For any soldier, sailor, airman, Marine and their family, your service mattered."
The final design for the GWOT Memorial will come from an arts competition, but the foundation said the overriding theme is expected to avoid the why and how of the war to focus on what mattered in the service and sacrifice of troops and their families.
"The GWOT Memorial will be a lasting tribute to the courage and sacrifice of all who have served -- especially those who have made the ultimate sacrifice -- in the nation's longest ongoing conflict to protect our country, while inspiring all Americans to stand united behind those who continue to serve," the foundation said in a release.
Although the design is still unsettled, there is precedent in the Global War on Terrorism Memorial on a plaza at the National Infantry Museum just outside Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, which was dedicated in 2017 and built with the same themes of service and sacrifice that the GWOT Memorial in Washington, D.C., hopes to enshrine.
The memorial in Georgia features two stone pillars bridged by a 13-foot beam pulled from the wreckage of the collapsed World Trade Center and donated by New York City firefighters.
Behind the pillars are nine, 7-foot bronze statues of soldiers, representing a squad of infantry on eternal patrol, and panels listing the names of the fallen since 9/11.
The panels now list 7,401 names. At a rededication ceremony each year, additional names can be inscribed on the $2 million memorial, which was funded by donations from companies and individuals, said retired Air Force Col. Andy Redmond, chief operating officer of the National Infantry Museum Foundation.
"We believe what we have here is the right thing in the right place," Redmond said of the memorial. But he welcomed a new GWOT Memorial on the National Mall.
"You can't have enough" memorials in tribute to the sacrifice of those who served since 9/11, he said. "If there's one on the Mall in DC, obviously that's a popular tourist attraction."
"We wanted to wait until we had a site designation" before addressing the design of a GWOT Memorial on the Mall, Jackman said, and the designation came in the form of an amendment to the $770 billion-plus defense policy bill, or National Defense Authorization Act. The NDAA received final approval from the Senate in an 88-11 vote Wednesday, with President Joe Biden promising a quick signing.
The amendment authorized that a GWOT Memorial "shall be located within the Reserve," the core section of the 1.8-mile National Mall stretching from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial that now is home to the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
"Location matters," Jackman said, and was "the heart and soul" of the bill authorizing the GWOT Memorial. "The fact that we now know it's in the core really tells us how they value our service."
In authorizing the GWOT Memorial, Congress made exceptions to the Commemorative Works Act barring additional memorials on the Reserve and also barring war memorials until at least 10 years after the conflict has ended. There are still about 2,500 troops in Iraq and about 800 in Syria.
The Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation must come up with at least 75% of the projected $50 million cost of the GWOT Memorial -- all through private donations -- before it can be built, but Jackman was confident that ground could be broken in 2024.
The foundation won approval from former President Donald Trump in 2017 to pursue establishment of a GWOT Memorial in the District of Columbia, and Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, an Iraq veteran with the Iowa National Guard, and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., lobbied for a spot on the Mall.
In a joint press release Wednesday, Ernst said, "This memorial will be a place of healing for so many who served, or had loved ones who served, in our nation's longest war."
Hassan said passage in the NDAA is "welcome news for so many service members and their families who have worked hard to see this happen."
Although the GWOT Memorial now appears closer to becoming a reality, it's far from the only memorial to U.S. veterans being lobbied for by advocates.
A bill to create a National Medal of Honor Monument in the District of Columbia was not included in the NDAA but was passed by the House in July and approved by the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee on Nov. 18.
A spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a main sponsor, said the lawmaker is "fighting to get it passed before the end of the year" by the full Senate, but it is unclear whether the Senate, now consumed by the infighting over other areas of Biden's legislative agenda, has the bandwidth to take on the Medal of Honor Monument proposal before the Christmas break.
The proposed bill has the backing of the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation, which is in the midst of fundraising for construction of a National Medal of Honor Museum in Arlington, Texas, and also for a National Medal of Honor Monument in Washington, D.C.
In a November press release when the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the MoH Monument in D.C., Chris Cassidy, the MOH foundation president and CEO, said the monument would be a tribute to the ideals represented by the recipients of the nation's highest award for valor.
"Recognizing the values of the Medal of Honor in a permanent, national way will help bring Americans from all walks of life together around the ideals to which we, both individually and as a nation, should aspire," said Cassidy, a former Navy SEAL and astronaut.
While Congress considered new memorials, the National Desert Storm Memorial Association was pressing ahead with fundraising to break ground for a Desert Storm Memorial, which has already won site designation and design approval.
The site to commemorate the 1991 swift victory over the forces of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the liberation of Kuwait would be located off Constitution Avenue and 23rd Street NW at a site that was not technically on the core section of the National Mall but still at a prime spot just down the rise to the Lincoln Memorial and across a driveway from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
"It's at the Mall but not on the Mall," said Scott Stump, president and CEO of the National Desert Storm Memorial Association and a former Marine lance corporal who served in Desert Storm.
The association had hoped to break ground for the Desert Storm Memorial for Veterans Day 2021, but Stump said the plan now is to have construction underway by year's end in 2022 if sufficient funds can be raised through private donations.
Stump said the association currently has about $9.8 million in private donations plus a pledge from Kuwait for another $10 million, which is well short of the 75% of the projected $40 million cost required to begin construction.
However, "We're pretty optimistic based on [a] lot of activity going on" with fundraising, Stump said. "There are some significant asks that are out there. We are hopeful and optimistic that several of those asks are going to come through to put us over the top."
A Desert Storm Memorial deserved a site near the other war memorials to solidify its place in the nation's collective memory of a conflict that brought together a coalition of 35 nations in common purpose to defeat tyranny, Stump said. "It should not be a footnote to history due to its brevity," he said.
Desert Storm "put to bed a lot of the Vietnam syndrome and the resulting tension between the American public and the military," Stump said. "That's part of the story of this memorial."
– Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.