I had hoped that this column would be a celebration. I had hoped I'd be announcing a Memorial Day parade down 16th Street, culminating in speeches and the dedication of new trees and new plaques. But I'm afraid I'm still hoping. Reality -- in the form of bureaucracy -- has pushed back a long-overdue project once again.
For the last four years, I've been trying to help the D.C. American Legion restore the only local memorial to the 507 D.C. servicemen killed in World War I.
The original memorial -- a tree for each soldier who lost his life, and a plaque beside each tree -- was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1920. But by the beginning of World War II, most of the trees were dead and most of the plaques had been disfigured or stolen by vandals. By 1982, only one plaque, and none of the original trees, was left.
The trees and plaques were originally placed along 16th Street NW, between Alaska Avenue and Allison Street. When the D.C. Legion first set out to replace them, the idea was to place trees and plaques on the same sites where they were placed originally. But the District government proved to be an insurmountable obstacle.
First, the city said that any replacement of trees and plaques would have to wait until repairs were made to the 16th Street road and curbs. That was supposed to take six months. It took more than two years.
Second, the city said it wouldn't contribute to the cost of the new trees and new plaques, even though the city had paid for the originals, and even though the replacements would cost only a few thousand dollars -- chicken feed in this day and age.
Third, the city said it would not permit the D.C. Legion to dig holes along 16th Street without insurance. A digger might hit a buried telephone or electrical cable, the city explained.
Fine, said the Legion. Just give us a map showing where the cables are, and we'll avoid them. Sorry, said the city, we can't do that, because no accurate map of underground cables along upper 16th Street exists(!).
So the project remains where it has been for several years -- in the middle of the air, instead of firmly in the ground.
It's time to change that. If the D.C. government won't cooperate -- or if its map-making department is too disorganized to cooperate -- it's time to go in another direction. Here's the direction the D.C. Legion and I have in mind.
If new trees and plaques can't be placed along 16th Street, let's do the next best thing: Let's place them as close as possible to 16th Street, but on property that doesn't belong to the city, and that therefore doesn't need city maps, city insurance or city permission.
To the National Capital Region of the National Park Service: Your open land near the tennis stadium at 16th and Kennedy streets NW would be ideal for a new World War I Memorial.
To the commanding general at Walter Reed Army Medical Center: Your facility overlooks 16th Street, too. Won't you say yes to a new World War I Memorial just inside the 16th Street gates?
As I've been saying for too many Memorial Days, it's only fitting that the city remember its World War I heroes. If we can't skin a cat one way, let's skin it another.
I appeal to the powers at the Park Service or at Walter Reed, or both. We are not talking about something the size of Kings Dominion, folks. We are talking about a cluster of 507 plaques and 507 trees -- a way for children and grandchildren to remember a group of D.C. heroes who are in danger of being forgotten.
It's a hell of a way to run a railroad -- a hell of a good way.
Susan Steel writes that she and her family went to New York on May 12 to celebrate her birthday. They returned to Washington by train -- but discovered that 4-year-old Andrew's irreplaceable stuffed dog, Sally, had somehow not made it aboard.
"Oh, dear," said Andrew, as 4-year-olds will. "Sally will be so scared."
Susan's husband recalled that he had last seen Sally sitting on a bench at New York's Pennsylvania Station. So as soon as they arrived in Washington, the entire family trooped into the Union Station transportation office and told agent W.E. Costello that Sally might still be where they had left her.
Costello immediately called the station manager in New York. He found Sally in the lost and found. The next morning, Sally was placed aboard a train bound for Union Station, where the family picked her up.
"We all think Mr. Costello is a hero," writes Susan, "and Andrew is most impressed that Sally got to ride the train home by herself."
Hooray to a brave stuffed dog for enduring a scary night in the Big Apple. Double hoorays to a D.C. station agent who could have done a lot worse by doing a lot less.