Bill signing clears legal roadblocks to World War II memorial
WASHINGTON (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.
Taking note of the controversy after the bill signing, Bush said in a written statement: ”Now that debate over the site and basic design is concluded, the time has come for all concerned … to act with the same determination and sense of common purpose so wonderfully displayed by those we honor.”
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, wore 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.
Later, Bush was greeted with a 21-gun salute as the presidential motorcade entered Arlington National Cemetery with an honor guard lining the route. A solemn Bush carried a wreath toward the Tomb of the Unknowns. Bush stood for several minutes before the tomb with his head bowed while a bugler played Taps.
Speaking at the flag-bedecked cemetery amphitheater, Bush said that visitors coming to Arlington National Cemetery ”might view these markers as one great national loss. But we must remember that for many who come here, there is one marker that will always stand out.” Bush also pledged that his administration would make its best effort to gain an accounting of those still listed as missing in action.
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.
On the Net:
World War II Memorial: http://www.wwiimemorial.com/
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