Bipartisan support is growing for legislation allowing a new memorial honoring thousands of U.S. service members who died in the war on terror to be located on the National Mall.
Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), an Army veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who has authored the bill, said he may have found a path forward for the stalled memorial legislation: He will offer it as an amendment to the massive defense policy bill known as the National Defense Authorization Act that will come to the House floor this week.
“There’s a lot of momentum behind the bill. We are submitting it as an amendment to the NDAA and getting broad support on it,” Crow said in an interview with The Hill.ADVERTISEMENT
In 2017, then-President Trump signed into law legislation that would authorize a nonprofit, the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation, to begin planning for a new memorial in Washington, D.C. But a 2003 law prohibits new memorials from being built on the National Mall.
Crow has co-authored legislation with Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), a former Marine Corps intelligence officer who also served in Iraq, to provide an exemption for the war on terror memorial. Together, they have rounded up support from 179 co-sponsors — 98 Republicans and 81 Democrats — though Crow says that number is actually closer to 200.
A version of the bill rolled out in 2019 only attracted 103 bipartisan co-sponsors.
The Global War on Terrorism Memorial Location Act would not provide any public funding for the memorial itself; private funds would be raised by the foundation to pay for construction.
What the bill would do is authorize the new memorial to be constructed on one of three preferred locations on the National Mall: Constitution Gardens near the lakeside memorial dedicated to the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence; on the JFK Hockey Fields; or West Potomac Park, south of the Reflecting Pool.
“We provide some flexibility. It could be one of those but we’re not restricting it to one of those,” Crow said.
Since the 9/11 attacks two decades ago, 4,431 members of the U.S. military have died in Iraq and 2,352 have died in Afghanistan, including 13 who were killed last month during a bombing at the Kabul airport as the U.S. was evacuating Americans and Afghan allies.
Given recent historical events, Crow said there is no better time to move forward on the memorial.
“We just remembered the 20th anniversary of 9/11 the same time we closed out the nation’s longest war, and we’re at a point where our country and our veterans who served in these conflicts are grappling with the larger meaning of these conflicts, the lessons learned and their role in it,” Crow said in the interview. “I think this is a unique opportunity for us to have a place where they and their families can go to heal and reflect.
“We’ve learned through the Vietnam Wall the healing power of place, that we need to reserve a place on the National Mall, our sacred grounds, for people to come together and do that reflection,” he continued. “This can be very healing for folks, and I think right now is a good time to start that process.”ADVERTISEMENT
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), an Iraq war veteran, has authored the companion bill in the upper chamber. She argued that Congress approving a memorial on the Mall would serve as a unifying moment at a time of partisan bickering over President Biden’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal.
On Monday, Ernst requested that the Senate unanimously approve the memorial’s location somewhere on the National Mall, noting that all six surviving Defense secretaries back the legislation.
But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, objected to Ernst’s motion, arguing that it could open the door for other memorials to be built on the Mall that might delay Ernst’s objective.
“I want the memorial to be built as quickly as possible,” Manchin said. But he added: “I believe this precedent would reopen the fight to locate other memorials on the National Mall and create more controversy that will ultimately delay the construction of this memorial, which is much needed.”