Kevin Smith ran his finger down the long list of names of Civil War soldiers who had fought with the U.S. Colored Troops of the Massachusetts 53rd. "Wow, that's pretty cool," he said when his finger stopped at the name of Gerrit Boone. "I found him."
Kevin and other students from St. Augustine School in Northwest Washington had a job to do yesterday: Find particular names among the 209,145 listed on the African-American Civil War Memorial.
In the past six months, the long-delayed national memorial at 10th and U streets NW has gone from looking like a construction site to a work of art that needs a few finishing touches. In July 1998, the bronze statue at the memorial was dedicated in a ceremony at the site even though the rest of the memorial was not finished. A final polishing of the dozens of stainless steel plaques that contain the veterans' names and some caulking around the panels is most of what is left to be done, said Frank Smith Jr., executive director of the memorial foundation.
Smith has struggled for years to see the $2.6 million memorial finished and in August was discouraged by the slow progress. At that time, he asked the National Park Service, which eventually will have control of the privately built memorial, to help the foundation by supplying maintenance and security workers ahead of the transfer.
In October, the Park Service signed an agreement with the District's Public Works Department--the contractor building the memorial--to jointly maintain and manage the memorial until the transfer becomes official later this year.
The Park Service also is sponsoring a national traveling exhibit, organized by the Gilder Lehrman Collection in New York, which opened at the memorial museum. A Park Service ranger participated in a panel discussion on the abolition of slavery attended by the students.
"We are actively negotiating with the Park Service to sublease some of our space here at the museum for a permanent ranger station," Smith said. "We need to get those doors open," he said, gesturing toward a sealed double-door entrance to the museum, "before we'll get rangers on a full-time basis."
When new doors are installed, visitors and the rangers will be able to enter the museum directly from the memorial. Now, they have to go around to another side of the building. Smith doesn't know when the building's owners will install the new doors.
A Park Service spokesman said a ranger likely will be assigned part time until the doors are in place and a ranger station can be built in the museum.
Yesterday, the intricacies of managing memorials was of no interest to the students who enthusiastically ran from panel to panel looking for their assigned name.
Kiana Lesesne, 8, searched for a soldier named Mills Boone. Her finger moved across all the names beginning with Bo- until she found the right one.
"I found it, I found it," she yelled to her teacher. Moments later, as her teacher approached, her face fell. "I lost him again. Oh, where did he go?"
She got closer to the panel, staring hard at each name in small type.
"I found him, I found him," she announced, pushing her finger hard against the panel so that Boone would not disappear again.
Kevin, who had found another soldier named Boone, said the names represented "the people who fought in the war."
"This is important," said Kevin, 10, "because this way people can find out where they came from."
CAPTION: Frank Smith Jr., executive director of the memorial foundation, outside the nearly completed African-American Civil War Memorial at 10th and U streets NW.