It will have its detractors, but the World War I Centennial Commission has selected the final design of the memorial to take the place of Pershing Park in Washington. The fact that it replaces the park sparks the first line of controversy.
Designed by M. Paul Friedberg with landscape design by Oehme van Sweden, Pershing Park has its own slate of benefactors. Members of the CFA and NCPC have already voiced opposition to the memorial. Both organizations have pushed to have the park placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
World War I Memorial
A competition that saw over 300 entries, the jury eventually selected the winner from five finalists. The Weight of Sacrifice by architect Joe Weishaar and sculptor Sabin Howard. The unanimous decision was in large part due to it keeping elements of Pershing Park and incorporating it into both an urban park and a memorial to the veterans of WWI.
The design chosen now has hurdles ahead. A WWI memorial was commissioned by Congress and now that the design has been picked, the approval process begins. While we get a look at the artistic vision of Weishaar and Howard, the final design will almost certainly be different.
Both the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the National Planning Commission have to approve the design. Each element of the design will be subject to historic preservation and environmental laws.
The vice chairman of the WWI memorial commission, Edwin Fountain, acknowledged it wasn’t quite the grand monument some were hoping for.
“It’s not going to be the grand statement we might have wanted,” Fountain said. “The site has to relate to and comply with the area around it. It has to take into account existing features of the site.”
That has lead to critics who have called the design a nice park to walk around in but nothing remarkable. It’s a valid point, but replicating something on the scale of the Vietnam Memorial is impossible.
The beauty and horror it speaks are something every visitor feels. Veterans immediately feel the connection to lost friends and family members. You walk through it and know it’s hallowed ground. 58,286 names engraved into the wall.
Walk up to it on any given day and just stare at the wall. 58,286 reasons why the United States military and its veterans deserve the high praise today and every day. 58,286 reasons we hold political leaders to a higher standard.
Memorials are equal parts education and reminders. When the World War I Memorial opens to the public in a few years, it will serve as an educational tool to show young and old the ferocity of the first world war.
Down the street will be the reminder of when war can go irrevocably wrong. The sins of our leaders engraved in marble. A wall to stand guard against the spread of apathy.
It’s easy to criticize the growth in the number of memorials. Maybe there are too many. Then again, maybe there’s not enough. We live in the information age, yet so quickly our past is lost to the ravages of now.