Bid to Replace Tomb Monument Stalls

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By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A controversial plan to replace the Tomb of the Unknowns monument was put on hold this week when legislation requiring a report to Congress on the issue was signed into law, a Senate staff member said yesterday.

An amendment sponsored by Sens. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) and James Webb (D-Va.) was attached to this year's defense authorization bill, which was signed Monday by President Bush, according to a spokeswoman for Webb. The amendment blocks replacement, but not repair, of the monument, pending a review of its condition and the feasibility of replacing it.

John C. Metzler Jr., the superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery, where the tomb is located, said yesterday that he would move forward with plans to repair the weathered monument, but he added that replacing it was "still a very viable option."

Cemetery officials long have wanted to replace the marble monument that sits above the tomb's underground vaults. The 48-ton monument, carved from Colorado marble, was set in place in 1931 and has been deteriorating since.

The stone, now weathered and chipped, has two horizontal cracks, both of which have grown in width and length over the years, cemetery officials say. One crack is 28.4 feet long; the other is 16.2 feet long.

Cemetery officials have said that the monument is too tattered for so sacred a spot and that another repair would not return the tomb to a condition befitting its importance. It has been repaired twice.

Perched on a hill overlooking the Potomac River and guarded 24 hours a day, the monument bears simple carvings of wreaths on the sides, figures representing Victory, Valor and Peace on one end, and, on the other end, the legend: "Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known but to God."

The tomb, which holds remains of unknown veterans of World War I, World War II and the Korean War, is often thronged with visitors from around the world who come to pay homage and watch the changing of the guard. Remains of a serviceman from the Vietnam War were removed from the tomb in 1998 and subsequently identified.

Preservationists, led by the Washington-based National Trust for Historic Preservation, have said that the monument can easily be repaired, and they have expressed dismay at suggestions that it be replaced.

"This is arguably the nation's most important war memorial, and we are working to insure that it is preserved, not replaced," Richard Moe, Trust president, said in a written statement yesterday.

"We are pleased that Senators Daniel Akaka and Jim Webb, along with our partners and citizens nationwide, share our determination that the Monument be properly preserved and cared for," he said.

Webb said in a written statement: "Since World War I, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has served to commemorate and immortalize those who never returned from the battlefield.

"Though cracked, this monument represents the patriotic spirit of all of the brave unidentified men and women who have fought and died in America's wars."

Metzler said in an interview that he would try to repeat a repair job that was done in 1989, when the cracks were cleaned and filled with a special grout and glue.

He said he has sent details of the 1989 work to National Park Service specialists to make sure that the same kind of repairs are suitable. "More damage has occurred" since then, he said.

Sheldon Smith, a spokesman for the Army, which operates the cemetery, said replacement of the monument is unlikely at this point.

"At the moment, it doesn't look like the Army is going to pursue replacing the stone," he said yesterday. "The issue has already been resolved."


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