STATEMENT OF PETER MAY, ASSOCIATE REGIONAL DIRECTOR, LANDS, RESOURCES AND PLANNING, NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS AND PUBLIC LANDS OF THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE, CONCERNING H.R. 938, TO ESTABLISH A COMMISSION TO ENSURE A SUITABLE OBSERVANCE OF THE CENTENNIAL OF WORLD WAR I AND TO DESIGNATE MEMORIALS TO THE SERVICE OF MEN AND WOMEN OF THE UNITED STATES IN WORLD WAR I.
January 24, 2012
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior (Department) regarding H.R. 938, a bill to establish a World War I Centennial Commission and to designate memorials to the service of men and women of the United States in World War I.
The Department appreciates the sponsors' recognition of the sacrifices of Americans who served in World War I.The Department shares the sponsors' sentiment on this subject and would like to continue working with Congress on appropriate ways to recognize that service.This is an important era in American history that has been honored through a number of monuments throughout the nation.
Unfortunately, there has been no study to determine which of the various World War I Memorials in the United States would be best suited to be named as the official National World War I Memorial, and the bill conflicts with the Commemorative Works Act (the Act), which was enacted to govern the establishment and placement of memorials in the Nation's Capital so as to protect existing memorials, open space and the historic vistas in this iconic area. For these reasons, the Department has serious concerns with H.R. 938 and we would like to work with the Committee to address our concerns.
The Department defers to the General Services Administration on the establishment of the World War I Centennial Commission as this responsibility would not fall under the purview of the National Park Service.
H.R. 938 would authorize the World War I Memorial Foundation (Foundation) to establish a commemorative work rededicating the existing District of Columbia War Memorial as the "District of Columbia and National World War I Memorial" by adding an appropriate sculptural or other commemorative element deemed appropriate to reflect the character of a national memorial.
The District of Columbia War Veterans Memorial (D.C. War Memorial) was authorized by Congress on June 7, 1924, to commemorate the citizens of the District of Columbia who served in World War I.The memorial was funded both by organizations and citizens of the District of Columbia. Construction of the memorial began in the spring of 1931 and it was dedicated by President Herbert Hoover on November 11, 1931.It was the first war memorial to be erected in West Potomac Park and remains the only local District of Columbia memorial on the National Mall.The memorial is a contributing structure in East and West Potomac Parks entry in the National Register of Historic Places.
The memorial was designed by Washington architect Frederick H. Brooke, with Horace W. Peaslee and Nathan C. Wyeth as associate architects, and inscribed on the base of the Memorial are the names of the 499 District of Columbia citizens who lost their lives in the war.The Memorial was designed to be used as a bandstand and is large enough to hold an 80-member band. Concerts were held there until May 1, 1960.For many years, its visitors were likely those who were there to enjoy its peaceful and contemplative setting.Today, as a result of the recent and considerable investment of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, $7.3 million, the memorial's original material, landscaping and character have been restored and rehabilitated and as announced at its re-dedication on Veteran's Day 2011, it will again be the focus of District of Columbia commemorative activities.And while this memorial is dedicated to District residents, there have long been several national World War I memorials in the District that are also located in the prime area known as the Reserve.
A national memorial to World War I veterans is located in Pershing Park, on Pennsylvania Avenue between 14th and 15th Avenues, in Washington, D.C. near the White House. This memorial, constructed by the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation and the ABMC, includes a statue of General Pershing, as well as artwork detailing the major battles in World War I that involved U.S. troops.This commemorative work represents all who served in that conflict.Quotations on this existing World War I Memorial include General Pershing's tribute to the officers and men of the American Expeditionary Forces of World War I and a commemoration of those who served in the United States Navy in World War I.Veterans of World War I are also honored by the 1st Division and 2nd Division Memorials, also located near the White House.
Just a few blocks from these World War I memorials, H.R. 938 would effectively supplant the intent of the D.C. War Memorial's sponsors who lived through that war, the citizens and organizations of the District, who advocated for and funded this memorial to honor their family members, friends and neighbors who served and died in World War I.Superimposing another subject on an existing memorial, particularly if new features are added, is an encroachment prohibited by the Commemorative Works Act.Moreover, adding this new commemoration contradicts the Act's concept of the Reserve, which honors the National Mall as a completed work of civic art where no more memorials are to be placed. Section 8908 of the Act precludes the addition of new memorials in the Reserve, defined as the great cross-axis of the Mall, from the United States Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, and the White House to the Jefferson Memorial.
In addition, H.R. 938 exempts this proposal from key provisions that are at the heart of the Commemorative Works Act. If a new memorial is proposed, Section 8905 of that Act requires the site and design for the new memorial be developed in a public process, first obtaining the advice of the NCMAC and then obtaining approvals by the National Capital Planning Commission and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.
The site for the Liberty Memorial at the National World War I Museum, in Kansas City, Missouri, was dedicated in 1921.The ceremony was attended by over 200,000 people, including General John J. Pershing, General John J. Lejeune, Ferdinand Foch, Admiral David Beatty, and military leaders from Belgium, Italy, and Serbia.In 1926, President Calvin Coolidge delivered the keynote address at the Memorial's dedication. The memorial and surrounding grounds were completed in 1938.The 108th Congress designated the museum at the base of the Liberty Memorial as the "National World War I Museum of the United States."
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. I would be glad to answer any questions that you or other members of the subcommittee may have.