Group Fights to Give War on Terror Vets Their Own Memorial in DC

In this April 9, 2003 file photo, Staff Sgt. Nick Popaditch of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines Regiment, smokes a cigar while standing on top of his tank, as he arrives at a main crossroad in downtown Baghdad. A statue of then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is in the background. (AP Photo/Laurent Rebours)
In this April 9, 2003 file photo, Staff Sgt. Nick Popaditch of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines Regiment, smokes a cigar while standing on top of his tank, as he arrives at a main crossroad in downtown Baghdad. A statue of then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is in the background. (AP Photo/Laurent Rebours)

Despite roadblocks and an unconventional process, the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation is pressing ahead with a plan to build the first-ever tribute to veterans of an ongoing conflict on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

"We're doing something that's never been done before, building a memorial to a live war," said retired Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Michael "Rod" Rodriguez, president and chief executive officer of the foundation and a veteran of nine deployments in his military career.

In a phone interview Nov. 7, Rodriguez did not give any numbers but said the foundation is making progress on raising the estimated $50 million in private donations needed for the memorial, with a groundbreaking projected for 2022 and a formal dedication in 2024.

Before that, the plan will have to pass a 24-step approval process by several federal agencies overseen by the National Capital Planning Commission on site selection and design.

A separate National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial on the National Mall is well ahead of the proposed Global War on Terror (GWOT) memorial in this process. A site for the Desert Storm Memorial has already been chosen near the Lincoln Memorial. Former President George H.W. Bush, who was commander-in-chief when Desert Storm was fought, is honorary chairman for that project.

The GWOT memorial got past a significant roadblock last year when Congress agreed to waive a requirement that construction of war memorials on the Mall must wait until 10 years after the conflict ends.

In the floor debate on the waiver, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconsin, a former Marine captain who deployed twice to Iraq, said, "This conflict will have no end date, no V-E [Victory in Europe] Day, no V-J [Victory in Japan] Day."

Another crucial test for the GWOT memorial will come early next year, when the proposal goes before the National Capital Planning Commission, Rodriguez said.

"We haven't got a site yet," he explained.

The foundation has hired the Winstanley Architects & Planners firm to do the site selection and serve as architects for the eventual construction.

There also is no design yet for the GWOT Memorial, which will come from an artists' competition that the foundation eventually plans to hold, Rodriguez said.

He also touched on concerns that the Mall, which already has memorials to World War II, Korea and Vietnam, may have reached a saturation point on war memorials.

Earlier this year, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund dropped plans for an expansion of the Vietnam memorial to include an underground education center when donations failed to materialize.

On Thursday, the World War I Centennial Commission will host ceremonies for the first National World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C., but that site is off the Mall on Pennsylvania Ave. and 14th St. near the White House at the existing Pershing Park, a small park named for Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I.

"One of the challenges we face is educating people," Rodriguez said, "explaining what it is about."

He stressed that "this is not a 9/11 memorial." Memorials to 9/11 already exist in Washington, New York City and Pennsylvania, he said.

The GWOT Memorial is meant, he said, to honor and recall the spirit of unity in "the response the nation had after 9/11" and the sacrifices of those who fought, and will fight, in the continuing wars that began more than 17 years ago.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.

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