The competition-winning design for the Korean War Veterans Memorial, unveiled under sunny skies by President Bush in a Rose Garden ceremony more than a year ago, is experiencing the cloud of controversy familiar to memorial designs in monumental Washington. It has been changed into a "GI Joe battle scene," charges a lawyer for its architects.
"We're very concerned about being associated with a fraud," said Robert Sokolove, an attorney representing four architects from Pennsylvania State University whose design was chosen by a jury over more than 500 other submissions to the competition.
Photographs of the original design, featuring a platoon of 38 bronze soldiers approaching a standard bearing an American flag, have been used in publicity seeking to raise money to pay for construction, Sokolove said, although the revised design shows soldiers "kneeling, some pulling pins out of grenades, some holding bazookas ready to fire."
Col. William Ryan, director of operations and finance for the American Battle Monuments Commission, stoutly defended the changes, telling the Associated Press that the revised memorial would be "far superior to the other design" while retaining the idea of "38 heroic statues of ground combat personnel."
The intention of the winning design, according to a statement by its architects, was to choreograph "the experience of moving into and through war, of release from war into the embrace of peace, and of reflection upon war." In the original concept "the 38 soldiers represented the 38 months of the war, and they were marching towards a goal, an end," Sokolove said. The revised design "decapitates" the concept, he contended, by changing the positioning and posture of the soldiers and making "huge" changes to the landscaping.
The memorial, to be constructed with private funds at an estimated cost of nearly $15 million, would encompass two acres in Ash Woods, a grove of trees and grass southeast of the Lincoln Memorial, a prominent location directly across the Reflecting Pool from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Ironically, Cooper-Lecky Architects, the same firm that supervised the changes to artist Maya Lin's controversial, competition-winning design for that memorial, was hired to implement the Korean War Veterans memorial design. Although it remains unclear who suggested specific alterations in this design, the changes clearly have the support of the battle monuments commission and the Korean War Veterans Memorial Advisory Board. The latter group is headed by retired Army Gen. Richard Stilwell, a former commander of U.S. forces in Korea who also served on the 10-member competition jury.
By law, such alterations have to be approved by the National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission of Fine Arts, both of which had given provisional approval to the original concept. But, as noted by Charles Atherton, secretary to the fine arts commission, "there were problems" with the first design.
Sokolove complained that the winning team -- composed of Veronica Burns Lucas, John Paul Lucas, Don Alvaro Leon and Eliza Pennypacker Oberholtzer, all faculty members at Penn State -- had been "shut out" of the process of changing the design. Competition rules specified that the winning competitor "will have an opportunity to review and comment on the development and realization of the design."
In response, the architects requested a meeting with White House officials last month to present their concerns. "We didn't want to embarrass the White House, if we were going to walk away" from the process, Sokolove said.
On the sunny day of the unveiling in June 1989, President Bush hailed the Korean War as "an American victory that remains too little appreciated and too little understood," and concluded, "Today we say, 'No more.' It's time to remember."