Remembering World War I in the nation’s capital

The Editorial Board

An overview of “The Weight of Sacrifice,” a planned World War I memorial that would transform an existing park.
An overview of “The Weight of Sacrifice,” a planned World War I memorial that would transform an existing park. Joseph Weishaar and Sabin Howard

A concept has been chosen and planning is underway to transform a piece of parkland in Washington, D.C., into a World War I memorial.

Kansas Citians, of course, already honor the war’s dead and its legacy in a big way. The city built one of the first and most impressive monuments to the men and women who served in the Great War. The Liberty Memorial opened to the public on Nov. 11, 1926.

And then, in the late 1990s, another civic campaign that included a temporary city sales tax and city-issued bonds led to the structure’s restoration and the opening, in 2006, of the National World War I Museum beneath the memorial tower. The museum has become a tourist magnet and a leading historical attraction here.

Perhaps the Washington memorial could bank on some synergies with the Kansas City museum.

But enough about us. A few points about the forthcoming project:

The building of war memorials has become a modern industry in the District of Columbia, which serves as a keeper of the nation’s collective memory. A statue of Gen. John J. Pershing, a Missourian who commanded U.S. forces in World War I, already stands in Pershing Park, which the new project proposes to transform.

The U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, including Matthew Naylor of the museum here, selected a winning proposal from five finalists in a memorial competition. Its design architect is 25-year-old Joseph Weishaar of Chicago, a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas.

The concept proposes a green space highlighted by long, darkened-bronze walls that will feature figurative reliefs and inspiring words to recognize the loss of 116,516 Americans in the war. “The integration of a park around and atop the memorial alludes to the idea that public space and personal freedom are only available through the sacrifice of our soldiers,” says a project description.

Planners will seek more than $30 million in private funds in hopes of building the memorial by the 100th anniversary of the war’s end in November 1918.

The walls echo the black granite walls of architect Maya Lin’s moving Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which touched off a protracted debate in the early 1980s.

This new design appears far less radical, though a local fight appears to be brewing if an effort to gain historic register status for Pershing Park succeeds.

Such is the journey of many memorials in an apparent forever war over the use of public space.