WASHINGTON - Former Sen. Bob Dole rejected criticism of the proposed World War II Memorial yesterday, saying the project is appropriate for its prominent site on the National Mall and is on track for groundbreaking this fall.
"We believe we have met all the demands," Dole, national chairman of the World War II Memorial Campaign, told a House subcommittee.
The nation cannot wait another half-century to honor the men and women who risked their lives during the war, because "there will be no one left to talk about it," Dole said.
At the hearing, the District of Columbia's delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, said the memorial has "major flaws" of design and location.
"I sincerely believe that a truly great memorial could be achieved just as prominently elsewhere with the artistry and imagination the extraordinary World War II generation deserves," Norton said.
A group of World War II veterans, local and national organizations launched an ad campaign this week to build support for relocation of the memorial. They said the current design and location will "destroy" the famous vista of the mall.
Dole said locating the project between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument would not be visually disruptive, and that veterans of the war deserve a prominent place.
"I know this is sacred land," Dole said. "But had we failed in World War II, I'm not certain who would be deciding what would go on the mall."
After hearing complaints about the memorial's original design, the American Battle Monuments Commission reworked it and received preliminary approval from the Commission of Fine Arts in 1998.
The design will feature a 237-by-338-foot lowered plaza. The plaza will have 56 stone pillars to represent the 48 states and eight U.S. territories of the time, plus tall arches at the north and south ends with laurel wreaths held by four eagles, symbolizing victory. The memorial's western wall will be plated with 4,000 gold stars, each one representing 100 people who died in the war. Groundbreaking is scheduled for the weekend of Veterans Day in November.
Earlier yesterday, Dole visited the proposed site to accept a $14.5 million contribution from Wal-Mart, bringing the campaign to within $7.5 million of the $100 million it needs to cover construction, dedication and other costs.
A national memorial is long overdue, said Oliver Whiteside, a World War II veteran and Wal-Mart associate. "I wish my mom, dad, sister and brother could have been here to have seen the memorial. But they are gone now," Whiteside said. "I want my grandchildren and future generations to get to see it."
Dole said about 1 million World War II veterans have died since March 1997, and that the death rate is reaching 1,000 daily. "There is some urgency about this. Time is running out and we believe we're going to make it," Dole said.