WASHINGTON – Two dozen veterans gathered on Capitol Hill Monday to protest an impending Senate vote to create a new World War II memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Gathering for the so-called "Save the Mall" campaign, they said they would rather turn over the medals they earned in the war than see the monument go up on the Mall.
"If the bills in the House and the Senate pass, I'll be happy to turn in my medals and ribbons because they've been devalued by this bill," said George Peabody, a retired member of the U.S. Coast Guard who was one of the crew that planted the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima.
Opponents argue that the National World War II Memorial Campaign, the committee responsible for building the memorial, is violating the law with its plan. And earlier this year, a district court judge ordered an injunction to halt the building of the memorial until the legal issues and lawsuits filed to prohibit it have been resolved.
"This whole memorial has been based on an illegal process, misrepresentation and lies," said Beth Solomon, a spokeswoman for the National Coalition to Save the Mall.
Opponents say the monument, which is the size of a football field, violates the Commemorative Works Act, which prohibits memorials being built on top of other memorials. They say planners are trying to situate the memorial atop the Lincoln Memorial grounds and that the memorial violates the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which demands that an environmental impact statement be completed before a structure can be built.
But the bills currently before Congress would nullify the lawsuit by superseding the Commemorative Works and National Environmental Policy Acts. The House legislation also says that "decisions about design are final, conclusive, and not subject to administrative or judicial review."
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. said Monday that the vote for streamlining the memorial's approval process could occur by the end of the week in time for Memorial Day. The House passed a similar bill last week.
These veterans and others argue that the National World War II Memorial Campaign, the committee responsible for building the memorial, is violating the law with its plan. Earlier this year, a district court judge ordered an injunction on the memorial until the legal issues were resolved.
Rep. Bob Stump, R-Ariz., argued that the bureaucratic process needs to be streamlined because the 5.9 million surviving veterans may pass away before the monument is built. World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 1,100 a day or more than 400,000 each year.
"This is truly bureaucracy at its worst. It has literally taken twice as long to go from congressional approval to construction of a World War II memorial than it did to fight and win World War II in the first place," Stump said during House debate.
D.J. O'Brien, a spokesman for Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark., who is sponsoring the Senate bill, said Hutchinson has made some modifications to the House bill to "clear away all the technical roadblocks" preventing the monument's construction.
O'Brien said the National Capital Planning Commission, which authorizes construction of monuments in Washington, "approved a good design and a good site, and a narrow minority is trying to block a good monument. If the delaying tactics continue, it could drag this out for years. We would like some of the vets to be there who made such a great sacrifice."
Solomon said that her organization will continue to lobby the Senate to defeat the bill. "I think senators are finding out what's going on. The more they do, the more it's going to slow things down. They're not going to pass that law because it's unconstitutional," she said.