Where to put the Desert Storm memorial?

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George H.W. Bush, who was president during Desert Storm, has endorsed the memorial and is the honorary chairman of the memorial’s board. (photo courtesy of ndswm.org)

Scott Stump put his life on the line 27 years ago as a U.S. Marine in Operation Desert Storm.

The conflict changed the way Americans looked at our armed forces and even helped heal the wounds the Vietnam War inflicted on the national spirit. Still, decades after the troops came home from the Persian Gulf, Stump wanted to make sure the country – and his family – did not forget.

“My own kids didn’t know this story,” Stump said. “Our country had kind of forgotten. I thought this was too important to relegate to a footnote of history. I had to give it a try.”

So one day while he was sitting in his basement office at his North Carolina home seven years ago, Stump contacted some of the men he had served with. He told them he thought the country should honor the veterans of Desert Storm – also called the First Gulf War – with a monument. They formed a board and went to work.

Seven years later, the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association has the backing of a former president, Congress and top military brass in its campaign to create a memorial in the nation’s capital. The association is working with federal officials to decide on a site. 

Three sites are under consideration for the memorial. The one favored by the association is at the terminus of Constitution Avenue, near 23rd Street NW, just north of the Lincoln Memorial. The site is presently open lawn, used for recreational purposes.

The second site is in Walt Whitman Park, along E Street NW near the intersection with 19th Street.

The third possible location for the memorial is called the Belvedere. It is a grassy area 25 feet wide by 140 feet long along Rock Creek Parkway, next to the Potomac, and just south of the Kennedy Center. It is near the off-ramps and roadways connecting I-66, Ohio Drive, Constitution Avenue and the Parkway.

The National Capital Planning Commission considered the question of where to place the memorial at its Dec. 7 meeting.

Mina Wright, who represents the General Services Administration on the planning commission, thinks the Belvedere site is a dud.

“Why are we advancing the Belvedere if there isn’t any support for it?” she said. “I feel like the Belvedere is this used car we’re trying to pawn off on somebody.”

Peter May, the National Park Service representative on the commission, asked the commission to visualize the real estate’s possibilities.

“You call it a used car. It may be a used car, but man it’s a Caddy. It’s a great car.

“It’s back on the table because the Commission on Fine Arts strongly recommended that it be considered.”

In testimony to the planning commission, Stump spoke of the nearly 400 American service members who gave their lives in Operation Desert Storm and the importance of honoring their sacrifice appropriately.

“There’s only one chance to get this right, so that future generations understand this historic event,” Stump said in his testimony.

Last week Stump, the president of the memorial association, said he thinks part of “getting it right” is building the memorial on the Constitution Avenue site, near the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials.

“Where else does a war memorial belong except among other war memorials?” he asked.

Stump said he has also come to realize the proximity to the Lincoln Memorial is fitting.

“Lincoln is associated with liberty,” Stump said. “He was the great liberator. [In Desert Storm] we liberated the people of Kuwait.”

Stump has very personal memories of the cold and rainy winter night that process began. It was early in the morning of Jan. 17, 1991. He was 200 miles south of Kuwait in a fox hole in Bahrain.

“We were providing security on a flight line at a top-secret air base,” Stump recalled. “I remember being in a hole in the freezing cold at 3:30 in the morning. F16 and F18 fighter planes began screaming overhead. They were flying so low it seemed like I could reach up and touch them. I counted them – 93 came screaming by. It hit me. ‘It looks like the peace talks didn’t work out. This is full-blown war now.’”

The war did not last long. By the end of February 1991, the last Iraqi troops had been driven from Kuwait and the conflict was over. Stump and the Marines he served with were transported home on April 8.

“That was so unexpected,” Stump said. “During Desert Shield [the build-up of forces following the invasion of Kuwait], there were a lot of dire predictions. The Iraqi army was made up of battle-hardened veterans after several years of war between Iraq and Iran. Thirty-thousand body bags were at the ready at Dover Air Force Base. Nobody could have predicted such a rapid and resounding victory.”

The report about the memorial project by the planning commission’s staff summarizes the history of the 1991 conflict.

“Almost 700,000 American service members participated, and ultimately several hundred gave their lives. The operations were an unqualified combat success that restored faith in the prowess of the U.S. military. The event holds a unique place in history by helping close the wounds of the Vietnam War, including the treatment of returning service members, and the respect given now to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Congressman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) gave video testimony at the December meeting of the planning commission. An Army veteran, Roe recalled the country’s very different attitude to the armed forces at the end of the Vietnam era, based on his own experience as a returning service member when he came home from active military duty in 1974.

“I served in Korea during the Vietnam era,” Roe said. “When I got out of the military, we were actually instructed not to travel in our uniforms. It was really unbelievable.”

Roe noted the strong bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate for the memorial. And he spoke strongly in favor of the site at 23rd and Constitution, near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

President George H.W. Bush led the coalition of 34 nations that fought together in the First Gulf War. He has endorsed the memorial, and serves as honorary chairman of the memorial board. He sent a message last month for the 27th anniversary of the beginning of the war.

“As we observe this 27th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm, I salute all of you who served so honorably and bravely. Many in the media claimed that our best days were behind us and that our all-volunteer force was not up to the fight. You proved them all wrong! I am so very proud of what you accomplished and it was an honor to be your commander-in-chief.

“I am also thrilled to know that the National Desert Storm Memorial will ensure that your service, and those brave souls who made the ultimate sacrifice while defending freedom, will never be forgotten. Your generation will now join the ranks of all the others who answered the call and served, by having your own place of remembrance and reflection in our nation’s capital.”

Stump said he and other veterans hold Bush in high esteem.

“We’re very proud he was our commander-in-chief,” Stump said. “We keep him well apprised of what we’re doing. We feel a sense of urgency to get this memorial constructed. We want him to see it in person.”

While Stump was in D.C. last week, he visited the embassies of two of the other countries that took part in the war as allies of the United States.

“We have a duty to involve the coalition countries,” Stump said. “It’s so important to keep them in the loop and make them aware of what we’re doing.”

Stump said the memorial will include design elements representing each country.