GWOT Memorial on National Mall Gets Green Light in Congress

December 8, 2021Hannah Ray Lambert
war on terrorism memorial

Gold Star families have long advocated for the creation of a Global War on Terrorism Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The passage of the defense spending bill in the House of Representatives Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, has brought that goal one step closer to reality. US Army photo by Rachel Larue/Arlington National Cemetery.

A yearslong effort to build a national memorial to those who served in the Global War on Terrorism on the National Mall is closer than ever after House lawmakers included approval of the project in a finalized version of the National Defense Authorization Act Tuesday.

“We are thrilled that the House has moved our bill forward and fully expect the Senate to do the same,” Army veteran and Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation president and CEO Marina Jackman told Coffee or Die Magazine Wednesday in an emailed statement.

Though the exact site is still up in the air, Gold Star families have long advocated for the creation of a GWOT memorial on the National Mall in Washington. In 2017, then-President Donald Trump signed legislation authorizing the GWOT Memorial Foundation to build a commemorative work on federal land using private funds, but it did not specify an exact location.

The location has been a sticking point ever since, primarily because a 2003 amendment to the Commemorative Works Act declared the parklands, memorials, and museums that surround the Washington Monument to be a finished work of art, prohibiting new memorials from being erected there. The area includes the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, national museums such as the Smithsonian, and a number of war memorials like those to the Vietnam and Korean conflicts.

gwot memorial
Under a 2003 amendment to the Commemorative Works Act, Congress declared the Reserve a completed work of art and prohibited new works from being built there. Map courtesy of the National Capital Planning Commission.

After three years of stalled bipartisan bills, the timing of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and the withdrawal from Afghanistan reinvigorated calls for construction of a memorial.

“You want your family members to be remembered,” Carol Barbieri told Coffee or Die in September. Barbieri’s son TJ was killed in Iraq in 2006, earning a posthumous Silver Star. “These are people. They weren’t just statistics; they weren’t just numbers. They were real, live people that had families that loved them, and their country should honor and appreciate the sacrifices that they made.”

Democratic Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado — a veteran of the war on terror — sponsored the most recent GWOT Memorial Location Act and later offered it as an amendment to the NDAA.

Global War on Terror, war on terrorism memorial
A candlelight vigil is held at the United States Marine Corps War Memorial, Arlington, Virginia, Aug. 28, 2021, in memory of the service members killed in the Aug. 26 attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, in the Global War on Terror. US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Kelly L. Timney.

The nearly $770 billion defense spending bill passed the House Tuesday night with strong bipartisan support and a final vote of 363-70. The final version of the bill includes changes to how the military handles sexual assault prosecutions, a 2.7% pay increase for service members and Defense Department civilian employees, $300 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, and increased reporting on lost and stolen military weapons, among other measures. The Senate is expected to vote on the NDAA this week, sending it to President Joe Biden for his signature.

“There is still a long way to go before the precise site on the National Mall and design of the Memorial are decided on,” Jackman wrote. The sites in the Reserve vary in size and come with their own architectural requirements for preserving the lines of vision between memorials.

The GWOT Memorial would be the first war monument erected in the Reserve since the World War II Memorial, which opened to the public in the spring of 2004. WWII veterans now regularly visit the memorial on trips that have come to be known as Honor Flights.

“We’ve seen on television how much it’s meant to them to go and visit, but they’re in wheelchairs and need assistance to see it,” Barbieri said. She hopes the men and women who served with her son will be able to gather at a memorial to their service while they’re still young.

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Hannah Ray Lambert
Hannah Ray Lambert

Hannah Ray Lambert is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die who previously covered everything from murder trials to high school trap shooting teams. She spent several months getting tear gassed during the 2020-2021 civil unrest in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not working, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading, and talking about authors and books on her podcast Between Lewis and Lovecraft.

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