More than 50 years after the last battle of WWII, thousands of veterans find themselves in a new battle. Many of the veterans a new World War II memorial aims to honor have launched a fight against its construction. On the front lines of this battle is a 1951 GW graduate, retired Army Cpl. John Graves.
Graves, 80, who served in the 63rd Infantry in France and Germany during the war and now serves as chairman of WWII Veterans to Save the Mall, said he feels the design and location of the memorial, which will be placed in the heart of the National Mall, are inappropriate.
“I am opposed to this location,” Graves said. “I don’t want this as our legacy. It is grandiose, expensive and unnecessary. We don’t want to be remembered like that.”
Graves said he and several thousand veterans who are protesting with him represent “the citizen solider, the World War II combat veterans.”
“They call on the citizens to do the fighting,” he said. “We are the ones they are memorializing and we don’t want to tear up our Mall. The commanders, generals and military brass want it. They are in the business of building monuments. We are in the business of answering the call.”
The memorial, which is planned to stand between Lincoln Monument and Washington Memorial, will include a new version of the Rainbow Pool that currently occupies the site. The pool will be surrounded by columns. The monument will cost $140 million to build and maintain, said Cindy Blink, customer services representative for the project.
Construction for the memorial, which is scheduled for completion by Veteran’s Day in November 2003, cannot begin until the construction permit is signed by the secretary of the interior, Graves said.
According to Graves, Secretary of Interior-elect Gale Norton will sign the permit for the memorial right away. Graves said his group has obtained a court order to stop construction, and questions the rush to push legislation through if project coordinators waited 50 years to build the monument.
“They say that they want it finished before we all are dead but they are not building it for us,” Graves said. “They are building it for people behind us. We were at the war.”
Graves and the thousands of veterans he leads call for the movement of the memorial location to the Constitution Gardens, 150 feet from the present site. According to Graves, the organization believes the site allows for the veterans to be memorialized without destroying the heart of the Mall, which has not been touched since the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922. They also desire a change in design of the memorial.
Opponents to the current memorial plan believe a simpler, more symbolic and less expensive memorial would be more appropriate. Graves said the design of the memorial is Germanic and reminds him of a stadium from which Hitler spoke. He said it looked too much like a military cemetery.
“This is not a cemetery!” Graves said. “There is no message. There are only two words on the memorial, Atlantic and Pacific, and they are oceans.”
“Our choice (for monument design) would cost far less than their $140 million,” Graves said. “They could use the savings to conduct a sincere search for those World War II still missing in action. There are 78,773! I am confident I speak for those silent souls.”
Graves said he believes the thousands of Americans who fought in World War II deserve a memorial, but he puts simple his reasoning of why he does not want an elaborate monument.
“Do you get paid to be patriotic?”