Eighty years after it was erected to commemorate the service of some 20,000 Washingtonians in the “Great War,” the District’s World War I memorial has found itself at the center of a heated political struggle: D.C. voting rights.
The memorial’s name would be changed from the District of Columbia War Memorial to the District of Columbia and National World War I Memorial — a change that Del. Eleanor Norton (D-D.C.) described as an “attack” on the District and Mayor Vincent Gray called an “indignity.”
“It seems denying representation isn’t enough,” Norton said at a press conference Monday afternoon, when she and city leaders including Gray spoke out against a Congressional bill to nationalize the memorial.
A House subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands will hold a hearing on the rededication bill Tuesday at 10 a.m.
Norton and Gray said that no one from the District was invited to attend or testify at the hearing. “This is yet another statement,” said Gray, “that we don’t exist ... as real Americans.”
Norton said she doesn’t have a problem with a national memorial — she just objects to Congress “comandeering” one dedicated to servicemen from the D.C. area.
The Mall currently houses national memorials commemorating World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, but not World War I.
A law passed by Congress in 2003 limits the development of new structures such as memorials, museums and visitors centers on the Mall from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, and from the White House to the Jefferson Memorial.
That means that erecting a new memorial beside the others is not an option, supporters say. But expanding the scope of District’s World War I memorial — located just west of the World War II memorial — is.
The names of the 499 District residents who died are engraved on the memorial. Norton said that those men and women did not give their lives only to have Congress “steal the memorial.”
Built in 1931, the memorial was paid for by District residents but is now cared for by the National Park Service.