WASHINGTON — The National Desert Storm War Memorial will be located on the National Mall just steps away from the Lincoln Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, after a federal commission approved the site on Thursday.
The move ends a debate of more than three years over where the newest combat memorial should be located. Supporters have been advocating for a site on the National Mall for years, and earlier this year that plan got support from the National Capital Planning Commission.
But the prominent location still needed approval from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to finalize the plan, an agreement that was not guaranteed given that space on the 146-acre site in the center of the nation’s capital is closely managed. The panel gave its approval on Thursday.
Scott Stump, the Desert Storm Marine veteran spearheading the memorial project, said his team at the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association was “very pleased and very relieved” by the commission’s decision.
“It’s in close proximity to the National Mall and the other memorials and commemorative works to where a person could actually access it, could walk to it, easily,” Stump told Military Times. “We felt like if you have something that’s the most beautiful memorial in the world, but it takes a lot of work for people to get there and people aren’t going to visit, then it kind of defeats our purpose.”
The spot is located at 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., just north of the Lincoln Memorial and a short walk from the well-known Vietnam memorial site. It’s also less than a half-mile from the World War II Memorial and Korean War Veterans Memorial.
When Stump’s team initially began scouting memorial sites, there were more than 100 locations in the mix. Three years later, Stump said he is ready to move into the design and construction phases.
“It’s been exhaustive,” he said. “The average person has no idea the level of work, time, wear and tear that is involved. It’s just a grueling process that we’ve endured.”
Stump’s team already has some design plans in the works, but the final design will once again require approval from the National Park Service, National Capital Planning Commission and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.
Stump said the time and labor required to get the memorial off the ground is well worth it to accomplish the ultimate mission: honor the troops who served in operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield and educate the public on the continued significance of that war.
“I hope obviously that if they don’t know the story, that they will learn about it,” Stump said of future visitors to the memorial. “If they kind of remember the story, maybe it will jog their memory and remind them that this was not the 100-hour war that it’s so erroneously referred to so many times. This was a big deal – it affected 700,000 people, and it was also one of the most overwhelmingly successful military operations in history.”
Nearly 700,000 American troops were deployed during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s. Combat missions took the lives of nearly 400 U.S. service members.
The estimated cost of the memorial project is expected to top $25 million, all coming from private donations. To date, the effort has raised just under $2 million.
Stump said his team is on track to meet their goal of completing construction by 2021, the 30th anniversary of the first Gulf War.
He emphasized that when complete, the memorial will have a distinct feel compared to the other war memorials surrounding it.
“It’s not a place of mourning,” he said. “Yes, remembering our people is of utmost importance, but it’s not the only aspect. There are some good points that are going to be remembered, like the coalition of 34 countries.”
“It was a remarkable time, so maybe this will give people some aspirations of ‘hey, this was a good time in our country’s history, this was a good time in the world’s history, where everybody came together and did the right thing.’ At the end of the day, this was all about doing the right thing.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.