Local veteran helps spearhead national memorial campaign

·6 min read

Jul. 23—It might just look like a bunch of grass and trees now, but in a couple years, the southwest corner of Constitution Avenue and 23rd Street in Washington, D.C., will likely look a bit like the sand dunes of Kuwait.

The National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial is a project that's been over a decade in the making, spearheaded by a group of veterans who want to make sure the war, and the sacrifices by the men and women who fought in it, will never be forgotten.

Kokomo's Kent Shively is one of those veterans.

Shively, a Marine Corps reservist from 1985-1991, served in both phases of what is now commonly known as the Gulf War, an international conflict brought on by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.

And after the war ended (February 1991), Shively — like many of the other 700,000 Gulf War veterans — simply went home and back to his daily life.

But then in early 2011, Shively received a phone call from a comrade named Scott Stump.

Stump and Shively served in the same unit during the war, and they had remained friends after it.

"He (Stump) had gone to a 20th anniversary celebration down at the George Bush library in College Station, Texas," Shively recently told the Tribune. "He and a few other Desert Storm veterans were just talking about how much time had passed and how there really wasn't a lot of recognition or remembrance of what had occurred there or what we had achieved.

"He was concerned that if something wasn't done, it would just become a footnote in history," Shively added. "So, he decided to explore the process of getting a memorial built in Washington, D.C., and he asked me if I would be interested in starting the process with him."

Shively jumped at the opportunity.

Of course, he also admits that both men were a bit naïve in just how big of an undertaking a national memorial would be.

"I've learned a lot more about Washington, D.C., than what I ever could've imagined," Shively laughed.

For example, the entire process takes 24 steps and is laid out in federal law.

It starts with getting legislation passed through both houses of Congress, and then the president of the United States has to sign that legislation into law.

And because federal law states that no public tax dollars can be used to build a memorial in Washington, D.C., without an additional act of Congress, there is also a ton of fundraising that goes into even getting such an idea off the ground in the first place.

Then there are the numerous site visits with the National Capitol Planning Commission and National Park Service, as well as design meetings with the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.

Eventually, a location is chosen, and groundbreaking can begin.

And for the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial, location was key, Shively noted.

"That was a very important site to us," he said, referring to 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue. "We could have built this memorial at one of the outlying sites in Washington, D.C., but we have always felt that if a memorial is not easy to find, you're not going to have visitors. We also felt that the sacrifices that were made (in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield) are just as important as any other sacrifice that's been made in our nation's history."

It was also important for organizers that the memorial be located near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which is located just a few yards away.

"Many of our senior staff and non-commissioned officers in Desert Storm were Vietnam veterans," Shively noted. "And they vowed to not allow the same mistakes that were made during Vietnam be made during Desert Storm and Desert Shield. So, we feel a kinship with the Vietnam veterans."

Even the memorial's design is very symbolic, Shively added.

"We don't have any large architectural aspects to it as far as something projecting up into the sky," he said. "The memorial itself, there's a front and a rear wall that are shaped to represent and look like the sand dunes of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The main wall is going to represent the operation, the battle itself. The rear wall is a wall of remembrance. And the pathway leading into the memorial represents the famous 'Left Hook' exercise."

There will also be a center grove inside the memorial, Shively said, with a fountain recognizing the 34 coalition countries that came together to liberate the people of Kuwait.

Groundbreaking for the memorial happened earlier this month, and construction is tentatively scheduled to be completed in 2024.

"It's a very humbling feeling," Shively said, "to be a part of all this in a way and to think that I'm involved in something that's designed to last 150 years. ... At times, it's been a frustrating process, but what has kept me going and what enables all of us to carry through are the numerous Gold Star families that we've met. Just knowing that we are doing something to remember their sons and daughters is so rewarding."

In all, nearly 400 military personnel lost their lives in the Gulf War.

And though Shively admitted that that number is smaller than some other military operations in American history, the courage of those brave men and women is something that needs to be seen and remembered.

"The sacrifices that they, and their families made, is no less significant than those sacrifices made at Valley Forge or at Gettysburg, at Belleau Wood or at Normandy, at Iwo Jima or in Vietnam. That is the ultimate goal with this memorial is to just honor those who put on the uniform and remember those that we lost there too."

Of course, there are still a few hoops to jump through before construction can officially be completed, Shively said.

Over the next 8-10 months, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts will finalize approval of the design, and construction can't begin until 110% of the cost of the memorial ($40 million) has been raised.

"We hope that this memorial accomplishes a lot of things," he said. "And when people eventually come on out and see it, I hope that they realize that this world can come together and work for good. We can't even get 34 states to agree on things nowadays. But back then, 34 countries came together to do what they knew was right. ... And it's worth remembering for generations to come."