Jared Golden presses for War on Terror Memorial in nation's capital

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Jun. 23—Veterans of the war on terror that began nearly two decades ago in response to the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are eager to see a memorial erected in the nation's capital to honor their service and sacrifices.

"For us, this is a truly, deeply personal matter," U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Maine Democrat, told a U.S. Senate subcommittee considering the issue Wednesday.

Golden is among the lawmakers pressing Congress to clear the way for construction of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial authorized in 2017 in a section called the Reserve — described by the administration as "the great cross-axis of the Mall" which extends from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, and from the White House to the Jefferson Memorial beside the Tidal Basin.

It's an area of heightened scrutiny for any changes because it contains many of the most treasured monuments and memorials in the country.

Michael Caldwell, acting associate director for the National Park Service's park planning division, told the subcommittee that it can't support the plan to put the memorial in the Reserve because Congress declared the area finished decades ago.

"How could it be complete when the history of our country is not?" Golden asked.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent chairing the National Parks Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said the proposal "aligns with the supreme sacrifice" that many made in the war.

More than 2.7 million veterans have participated in the war, all of them volunteers, and more than 7,000 Americans have perished in it.

Congress approved the concept of a memorial in Washington with a unanimous vote in 2017. President Donald Trump signed the measure into law.

A number of organizations are pushing to put the memorial on the National Mall, including the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation, which kicked off a $50 million fundraising campaign this year to pay for it.

Now the issue facing officials is where to put it and when to build it.

For Golden, the answer is clear: "We believe the answer is now and within the Reserve on the National Mall."

There are two bills before Congress that would accomplish that goal.

The one in the Senate is pushed by Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, while the House version is sponsored by Reps. Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat, and Mike Gallagher, a Republican from Wisconsin.

Twenty-one senators have endorsed Ernst's bill. Neither King nor Maine's other senator, Republican Susan Collins, are among them.

The House bill has 153 co-sponsors, including Golden. Maine's other representative, Democrat Chellie Pingree, has not signed on to it.

Caldwell cited three specific spots in the Reserve eyed by supporters for the memorial: Constitution Gardens, the JFK Hockey Fields and West Potomac Park. All of them are off-limits unless Congress clears the way.

He urged lawmakers to consider other spots.

In recent years, proposals for a World War I Memorial and a National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial failed to secure spots within the Reserve. Nearby locations in Washington were found, however.

Ernst told King's subcommittee that it's important to have a spot that can "honor the courage and commitment" of service members and their families since Sept. 11, 2001. It will prove, she said, "a place of healing" akin to what happened after the Vietnam War Memorial's completion in 1982.

Golden, too, said it will become "a place in our capital for reflection and healing."

Golden is co-chairman of the bipartisan For Country Caucus, a group of 25 House members who served in the military, mostly during the war on terror. He fought as a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It wasn't entirely somber at the subcommittee session Wednesday.

After King hailed Golden's "powerful" appearance before the subcommittee, he pointed off to the side and told the two-term lawmaker, "Congressman Golden, the House is sort of over that way."

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