President Roosevelt signing the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act into law, June 22 1944. The Bill became commonly known as the GI Bill. 

“Our collective understanding of war has changed dramatically since 1986, and the laws governing military commemorative works need to change accordingly.”

Prior to the construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (or the Wall as it is commonly known) on the National Mall, no memorials had been built on the federal green space honoring wartime service. With the Wall’s dedication in 1982, the battle that was waged with Congress and other federal entities to build it forced Congress to enact rules that would create a new standard for future federal war memorials. The 1986 Commemorative Works Act was the answer to that lack of regulation that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial’s speed and success highlighted.

The 1986 CWA provided a framework and an application process of sorts with which all public works of art on the National Mall and inside Washington, D.C. would need to comply with. Two of the law’s major tenants that impact our mission directly are the concept of sponsorship and interaction with the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission (NCMAC), a commission formed by the law in 1986. Both examples can be seen below:

(4) SPONSOR- The term ‘sponsor’ means a public agency, or an individual, group or organization that is described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and exempt from tax under section 50 1(a) of such Code, and which is authorized by Congress to establish a commemorative work in the District of Columbia and its environs.

Sec. 8904. National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission

(a) Establishment and Composition. There is established the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission, which shall be composed of;

  1. the Director of the National Park Service;
  2. the Architect of the Capitol;
  3. the Chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission;
  4. the Chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts;
  5. the Chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission;
  6. the Mayor of the District of Columbia;
  7. the Commissioner of the Public Buildings Service of the General Services Administration; and
  8. the Secretary of Defense.

For the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation’s purposes, neither of the above tenants poses any major challenges. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit (pending sponsorship), we will work together with NCMAC moving forward. However, the 1986 CWA did place a tenant in the legislation that impacts our ability to build the GWOT memorial:

(b) Military Commemorative Works.–A military commemorative work may be authorized only to commemorate a war or similar major military conflict or a branch of the armed forces. A commemorative work solely commemorating a limited military engagement; or a unit of an armed force may not be authorized. Commemorative works to a war or similar major military conflict may not be authorized until at least 10 years after the officially designated end of such war or conflict;

Most military strategists and think tanks acknowledge that the “Global War on Terror” will be a multi-generational conflict, to be potentially fought for 80-100 more years, if not into perpetuity. Our collective understanding of war has changed dramatically since 1986, and the laws governing military commemorative works need to change accordingly. The alternative would be something much worse than what we saw with the Greatest Generation who saved the world from tyranny during World War II; that generation of warriors did not have a place on the Mall until 59 years after their war ended, and for many of them it sadly came too late.

Our organization has taken on the challenge of convincing Congress to amend the current 10-year restriction, or exempt the National Global War on Terrorism Memorial from the ten year restriction.

Democracies throughout world history have rarely gone to war for durations longer than 8 years. While the legislators in 1986 wrote a thoughtful piece of legislation, no one anticipated a war like the Global War on Terror.

After nearly 16 years of continuous war, equating to 6.3% of the United State’s entire history, fought by an all-volunteer force across the globe, it is time we start clearing the way to memorialize the efforts of those who have fought this war and will continue to do so.

Learn more about the 1986 Commemorative Works Act