President Bush signs bill authorizing World War II Memorial



President Bush signing the Bill

Artist rending of the proposed memorial


WASHINGTON May 28, 2001(CNN) --In Washington, President George W. Bush signed a bill Monday to clear the way for a long-stalled World War II monument on the National Mall.

The bill ends lawsuits and procedural hitches that have held up the start of construction for eight years, allowing organizers to resume the contractor-selection process and start building within a couple of months. Congress passed the measure last week.

"In the 60th year after Pearl Harbor it is my huge honor to set my name on this bill, ordering construction of a monument that will stand for the ages," Bush said at the White House signing ceremony. "Not only will I sign the bill, I will make sure the monument gets built."

After the signing ceremony at the White House, Bush was to participate in the traditional presidential wreath-laying and speech at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Then he was flying to Mesa, Arizona, where he was to pay tribute to veterans at the Champlin Fighter Aircraft Museum, before heading to California for a two-day stay.

Controversy about the memorial has intensified because World War II veterans are dying at a rate of about 1,100 each day, Bush has noted.

Opponents argued that the mall should remain open and untouched, so that future generations can protest the government in the tradition of Martin Luther King. Some also described the memorial design as gaudy, or authoritarian.

The controversy, which has even put some veterans on opposing sides, may endure as part of the memorial's legacy.

"It is time to put all of this in the past and do right by our honored dead and the veterans that are still with us," memorial planners spokesman Michael Conley told The Associated Press. "It is almost unforgivable that we have no place in Washington that honors those who fought in a war that gave us our modern identity as a nation."

Built around the existing Rainbow Pool on the mall, it is to be a shallow stone crater that extends across 7.4 acres. On either side, there are 43-foot tall concrete triumphal arches, one representing the victory in the Atlantic theater, the other, the Pacific.An artist's rendering of the proposed World War II Memorial planned for placement between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, seen in the background, in Washington  

Cradling the circle are 56 pillars; one for every state and territory at the time. At the heart of the memorial, fountains spring out of a pool of clear water. At its head, a wall of gleaming golden stars, one for every 1,000 American soldiers who died, stands between two waterfalls.

In Bedford, Virginia, another World War II Memorial was to be dedicated on Monday -- this one for the town's 23 men who died in the Allies' D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944. It was the highest per capita loss for any U.S. community.

"We lost so many men," Boyd Wilson, 79, told The Associated Press. Boyd joined Virginia's 116th National Guard before it was sent to war. "It was just painful."

The memorial will officially open the day after the dedication.


Bush Signs WWII Monument Bill


WASHINGTON May 28, 2001(AP) -- President Bush honored America's veterans Monday with the Memorial Day signing of legislation to construct a World War II monument at a controversial site on the National Mall.

Addressing an audience of veterans in the yellow-curtained East Room, the president also announced creation of a task force that will recommend major reforms in delivery of health care to veterans and military retirees.

Standing in front of an American flag and a portrait of George Washington, the president said the monument between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial "will stand for the ages.''

"I will make sure the monument gets built,'' the president told the applauding veterans, among them former Sen. Bob Dole, who fought for the memorial.

Critics have said the design for the memorial is too grandiose and would clutter the Mall and obstruct the sweeping views.

President Clinton formally dedicated the site in 1995, and in 1997 announced the winner from more than 400 entries in a design competition.

Planned for a 7.4-acre site in the heart of the Mall, a circle of granite pillars will represent the states and territories, and two four-story arches are to signify victory in Europe and Asia.

Sponsors say the actual monument will take up about one-third of the site and, including planning expenses from 1993 when Clinton signed a bill authorizing the memorial, will cost about $160 million. Some $150 million has been received in pledges for private donations, with the rest to come from federal funding and interest payments.

The legislation was in reaction to a lawsuit filed last October by opponents arguing that federal laws had been violated in the review process.

The bill states that the memorial ``shall be constructed expeditiously'' at the Rainbow Pool site and that actions by the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission last year to move the project forward would not be subject to judicial review.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, a World War II veteran and a chief backer of the project, said after the bill passed that it eliminated all judicial challenges.

World War II veterans are dying at the rate of about 1,100 each day, Bush said recently. ``It is time to give them the memorial they deserve,'' he said.

The health task force will be led by former Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y. and Gail Wilensky, who ran Medicare for former President George Bush.

"I'm today announcing creation of a presidential task force to recommend major reforms in the delivery of health care to veterans and military retirees,'' Bush said to loud applause.

Many in the audience, veterans of several wars, work caps from veterans organizations -- some with medals pinned on them. Bush asked the World War II veterans to stand, and about a dozen stood up.

"My administration will do all it can to assist our veterans and correct oversights from the past,'' the president said.

He said his budget calls for significant increases in health care for veterans, and added the Department of Veterans Affairs is conducting a top-to-bottom review of the benefits claims process.

After the signing ceremony at the White House, Bush was to participate in the traditional wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery and make remarks.

Then he was flying to Mesa, Ariz., where he was to pay tribute to veterans at the Champlin Fighter Aircraft Museum, accompanied by Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

Arizona's other senator, Republican John McCain, is one of the nation's best-known veterans, but he was in Ireland meeting with foreign leaders, spokeswoman Nancy Ives said.

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