WASHINGTON -- The people planning a World War II memorial for the National Mall here are in a race against time.
They are $70 million short of the $100 million they need to begin constructing the massive monument, but veterans of the century's epic military struggle are dying at a sobering pace -- about 1,000 a day.
"The biggest concern isn't that the World War II memorial won't be built," said Mike Conley, spokesman for the commission that runs U.S. military cemeteries and monuments. "The urgency is for us to get it dedicated while veterans are still around to see it."
The commemorative marker has been a long time in coming. In 1987, 42 years after the war ended, legislation authorizing the monument was introduced on Capitol Hill. Six years later, Congress approved the project.
Now, the American Battle Monuments Commission has until May 2000 to obtain a building permit for the memorial, to be erected on the 5 1/2 -acre area known as the Rainbow Pool site, on the mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
To get the permit, the law says, the group must have $100 million in hand, and it has raised only about $30 million.
Planners hope to meet that deadline, but even if they don't, they say they expect to get an extension to keep the plot available when the money materializes.
An extension, however, is not what memorial officials want. The most important consideration, they say, is to produce the monument before it's too late for those who are the very reason for the sanctum -- who today number fewer than 7 million.
Veterans organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the Disabled American Veterans have all made big financial pledges to the memorial.
The American Legion intends to raise $3 million, and the Disabled American Veterans have already given $500,000, Conley said.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars, with 2 million members -- half of whom are World War II vets -- have established a plan to raise $7.5 million for the project.
Membership in the VFW has fallen by about 200,000 in the past five years, largely because of the advanced age of most of its members, said Bill Smith, the group's national director of communications.
But that decline will not diminish the organization's financial commitment to the memorial, he said.
"The actual building of the memorial is very important to the VFW as it represents a pivotal moment in American history," Smith said.
Active fund raising for the memorial began in March last year.
The fund-raising effort has reached beyond veterans and corporate donors to other groups, including schoolchildren. More than 150,000 givers have contributed to the memorial so far.
Students at Salamanca Middle School in western New York, for example, learned about the memorial effort in their social studies class and raised $1,050 as a community service project, Conley said.
In Milwaukie, Ore., high school students have raised more than $10,000 and are continuing the effort. One junior there donated two of his paychecks from a McDonald's restaurant -- totaling more than $740 -- to the memorial fund.
Despite such generous gestures, the memorial fund has a long way to go. "We need the pace to pick up and we are aggressively doing that," said Conley.
Pub Date: 12/20/98