The saying that "old soldiers never die" is true: their courage and behavior under stress lives on in the hearts and minds of their comrades.
But I can tell you that old soldiers cry when they attempt to erect a tribute to their comrades lost in battle. About all they can do is weep in frustrated sorrow as they watch Congress consider legislation that would prohibit even modest memorials in Washington to those who have given their lives in defense of our freedom.
For years several veterans organizations have fought fruitlessly with Congress and government agencies over the erection of memorials to their dead. Some have given up in despair. They can only hope that when they see their friends in some future life they will be able to explain the difficulties.
It took the 101st Airborne Division 7 1/2 years to get its monument built. The Society of the Third Infantry Division is still waiting. We have been trying since 1954 to build a memorial to our 10,000 killed or missing in action during World War I, World War II and the Korean conflict.
At a recent reunion, in 1984, we decided to make another effort. We have raised almost $50,000, including 15 cents from a soldier in Germany, and another donation of $1,000 from a member in the Old Soldiers Home. He figures he isn't going to need it much longer. Our proposal is to build a modest shaft of granite about 12 feet tall that would rest on a base taking up no more space than a 9-by-12 living room rug. It would be erected entirely at the expense of the Society of the Third Infantry Division. Legislation authorizing the memorial in the Washington area has been pending in both Houses of Congress since early in this session.
But now there's a new obstacle: legislation that would limit the number of memorials on national park land. It's called H. R. 4378, "a bill to govern the establishment of commemorative works within the National Capital Region of the National Park System." It would prohibit not only the erection of any additional "commemorative works" but would restrict those to be placed in District park land to works that "commemorate a war or branch of the service." It would forbid commemorative works for "lesser actions or units." The effect of this bill would be to deny future memorials to "units" of the service, including everything from patrol boat to fleet, from squad to Field Army.
Such prohibitions should not be written into law. The government should not deny a small piece of land to those who would like to place in the nation's capital a small shrine commemorating those who died beside them in battle.
The government needn't worry about what one House member called "an unending appetite" for new historical monuments. After all, these memorials are privately funded, which means raising large amounts of money from organizations whose membership is dwindling. This fact, as well as reviews by various agencies, problems with design and delays in the passage of legislation, work to limit the number of memorials that are built. There have been exactly five since World War I, a period of nearly 70 years. Why does the federal government want to impose more restrictions?
Rather than forbid future memorials, Congress might consider setting aside some small parcel of land for a monument to the Third Infantry Division and other military units that seek to commemorate their dead. The Society of the Third Infantry Division has suggested the area along the drive leading into Arlington Cemetery from Memorial Bridge. This land could be reserved specifically for war memorials, and no one would have to worry about the District's dwindling open space.