MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Now, we'll look at a bridge of sorts that connects the past, present and future. We're talking about memorials and with Memorial Day weekend upon us, we pay tribute to the men and women in uniform who've served our country and given their lives.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We lost our last living veteran of World War I back in February. Frank Woodruff Buckles of Charles Town, West Virginia, was 110 years old. His daughter, Susanna Buckles Flanagan says Memorial Day or Decoration Day as it used to be called, was among her dad's favorite holidays.
MS. SUSANNA BUCKLES FLANAGAN
In the last number of years, I accompanied my father on different events that he was invited to and had the pleasure of meeting many wonderful, wonderful people. Veterans of all wars, World War II, Korea, of course Vietnam, the Gulf Wars and up until today.
MS. SUSANNA BUCKLES FLANAGAN
And I have a much greater appreciation for those veterans and for our veterans today and for the sacrifices of those in the past because of my experience of being with my veteran father.
In his final years, Frank Buckles was committed to creating a national World War I memorial on the National Mall. There's already a relatively small monument there, the D.C. War Memorial, which recognizes the D.C. residents who died in the Great War.
But Buckles and a local group called the World War I Memorial Foundation, starting lobbying Congress in order to restore, expand and rededicate that monument on a national scale. The D.C. War Memorial is under all sorts of construction right now.
You can hear some of it there in the background since that's where I met up with Edwin Fountain, the World War I Memorial Foundation's founding director. And he says he's pretty sure it's one of the mall's lesser-known memorials.
MR. EDWIN FOUNTAIN
I guarantee you that the great majority of people in Washington who may have been by this memorial many, many times don't know what it is. When it was so overgrown before, it's been opened up now, people would go past it in the mall or drive past it here on Independence Avenue, maybe see it out of the corner of their eye. But there was no signage saying what it was. There were no directional signs along the mall.
Can you describe how the memorial looks?
It's around Greco-Roman, very classical, domed temple kind of structure. It was dedicated in 1931 as a memorial to the residents of the District who fight and died in World War I and the names of the 499 residents of the District are inscribed around it and there's a capsule in one of the stones that has the names of all 26,000 District residents who fought.
And for 50 years it was the only thing here other than the Lincoln Memorial and the reflecting pool. And it wasn't until the Vietnam veterans sought a memorial to their service that we really had our first national war memorial. And then the Korean War vets wanted one for that war and then the World War II vets.
And we've been working backwards and we got to World War I and there was no constituency. We didn't have Senators still serving in Congress who had served in the war, who would've supported those efforts and so a group of us decided that we would take up the cause of this memorial.
First, to restore it because it was in neglect and in bad disrepair and then we also looked around and said, well, we've got these other three national memorials, shouldn't this one be rededicated as a national memorial as well.
Now, there is a national World War I Museum, correct?
Yes, the National World War I Museum is in Kansas City at the site of something called the Liberty Tower, The Liberty Memorial, and they're also abdicating that memorial have national recognition, national status. And for a time we were opposed to each other.
We ultimately agreed that the best solution was, to paraphrase Ernie Banks, "Let's have two." They have the virtue of being located next to the museum. We're here on the National Mall, of course Washington gets so many more visitors, both from the United States and from around the world.
And they come here and they pay their respects to the veterans of the other three wars of the 20th century and we think they ought to have an opportunity to pay their respects to the veterans of World War I as well.
So at this point, tons of construction we can see going on, cranes, you can hear the beeping of the machinery. Where are all these funds coming from?
Well, in 2009, the Stimulus Bill, the Parks Service was allocated about half a billion dollars for capital projects nationwide. And the Park Service has allocated stimulus funds to three projects that we can see from here. The complete overall of the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the shoring up the sea wall around the Jefferson Memorial and then they allocated $7 million for restoration of the D.C. War Memorial. Work began August last year and they expect it to be down around June of this year I think.
So come June, assuming they are finished by June, what we will see here? What will look different?
Well, three main things. There was a lot of damage to the stonework itself of the memorial. And they're doing a thorough cleaning of the entire memorial that's just going to make it sparkle at nighttime. They're going to improve the lighting as well.
Second, they have completely redone the walks leading up to the memorial. When Frank Buckles came and visited this memorial in 2008, when he was 107 years old, it was very difficult for his wheelchair to navigate the walkways up to the memorial.
And then the third thing they're doing is restoring the landscape around the memorial to its original design. Over the years it had become overgrown and surrounded by a lot of trees and shrubs and whatnot that were not part of the original design.
The memorial was designed to be used as a bandstand and it had a plaza for concertgoers to come sit and listen. The Park Service plans to restore that use of the memorial and so they're restoring that open space around it. But at the same time it's still kind of a secluded, tucked away little memorial, which we think gives it a more solemn and contemplative and peaceful setting.
I want to ask you about something sort of on that note, now that we've lost the last living veteran of World War I. What place do you think World War I should hold, could hold in the minds and hearts of America?
Well, our view is certainly that it should hold an equal place with the other three wars that we have memorialized here. Most Americans don't realize more Americans died in service during World War I than died in Korea and Vietnam combined.
Over 116,000 men and women in uniform died during the war. It was the war that marked the first time that America had sent its troops overseas in defense of liberty, against foreign aggression and it was the beginning of what we now think of as the American century.
And so in addition to a memorial value, we really want this to have an educational benefit for people that come here, both from the U.S. and from around the world to understand the significance of this war in our nation's history.
Well, Edwin, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.
Again, the D.C. War Memorial is scheduled to reopen to the public soon. To see pictures of the memorial and of the last of the World War I doughboys, Frank Buckles, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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