A Slow-Moving Memorial

National World War II Memorial proposed design (revised third version) by Friedrich St. Florian for Washington DC mall, artist conception AP

Washington is a city of monuments, but the Mall is its backbone, a marriage of history and art in the nation's capital. CBS News Sunday Morning Anchor Charles Osgood reports.

Paul Goldberger, architecture critic of The New Yorker: "The beautiful purity and lyricism of the Lincoln Memorial, the way the Washington Monument is like a sort of great axis, a pole that all of Washington revolves around, these are symbols, it's real clear and real easy to see in an instant. And they also bring a certain almost lift to the spirit when you see them."

Goldberger fears what he calls America's front yard is about to be ruined, not by a parking lot, not by a skyscraper, but by a monument, a monument to America's men and women who fought in World War II.

It will cover seven and a half acres at the end of the reflacting pool, between the Lincoln and Washington monuments. It includes a sunken plaza surrounded by 56 pillars and two arches four stories high.

Goldberger: "This monument seems to me to be a piece of architecture of death. It looks like the kind of monument that is ordering you to feel something, rather than helping you feel it for yourself. It's saying to you, 'You will feel these people did a great thing.'"

Which defenders say is exactly the point.

Brigadier General Pat Foote (Retired): "It was a cataclysmic event that was truly the great conquest of good over evil."

You know, the generation‑‑the greatest generation, as it's been called‑‑of World War II, was a generation which when it was asked to do so came forward in millions to serve.

General Foote is a member of the commission which helped select the design and site for the memorial. She served in Vietnam. Says she, "We need this memorial, but most importantly, we need this memorial on this site as a testament to the men and women of that generation in America... The place is key. The memorial and it go together beautifully."

But critics call the design militaristic. Some even likened it to the architecture of Nazi Germany.

Says General Foote: "To even infer that this memorial will make people think of the architecture of Hitler's Nazi Germany is an outrage, a total outrage."

Memorials are always controversial because people feel strongly about them. It's not that anyone is against honoring the memory of those who did so much or gave so much during World War II, but they want it to be the way they think is right, particularly if the location is the Mall.

Early maps show a clear path between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. The Lincoln Memorial was added in 1922 at the western end. But, in recent years, the Mall has taken on a more military tone, although off to the side. The Vietnam Memorial, once called a gash in the earth, was dedicated in 1982. The Korean War Veterans Memorial, whose life-sized figures, also created some stir, followed in 1995.

The World War II monument was originally planne for the edge of the Mall in what is called Constitution Gardens. But the head of Washington's Fine Arts Commission, J. Carter Brown, former director of the National Gallery of Art, thought it deserved a more prominent site in the middle of the Mall.

Six years ago, President Clinton dedicated the present site. Bob Dole, who was almost killed fighting in World War II, was named chairman and helped raise $170 million in private funds.

This weekend, the movie "Pearl Harbor" opens. It follows in the footsteps of "Saving Private Ryan," which helped introduce a new generation of Americans to the sacrifices of World War II. So the movie's star, Tom Hanks, was drafted into the fund‑raising campaign.

Says Hanks: "They were so young and did so much, but that was more than half a century ago. And yet, there is no national memorial to honor their sacrifice. It is time to say thank you."

Architectural historian Judy Feldman agrees the "thank you" is long overdue, but thinks it's in the wrong place: "This space...was designed to be a long open vista, a long, open space, and the fact of the matter is that what has been designed for here will, in fact, close off the green, natural openness... This has become the public gathering place, the marching place where we celebrate our freedom. The symbolic and the physical continuity will be broken."

In fact, changes have been made in the memorial. It is now a third smaller than originally planned. Yet two of the nation's most respected preservation groups, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, still think the proposed memorial is in the wrong place.

But veteran Eddie Dentz, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, doesn't think so. "I've seen the graphics. They appear to be in very good taste. They do not block out the view of...the other monuments. I think it's very attractive and very appropriate."

Construction was supposed to start last fall. But a lawsuit stopped it, charging that is violated a law degined to protect the Mall from clutter. And the Justice Department announced that a member of the commission approving the monument inadvertently voted after his term of office had ended, threatening to send the whole process back to square one.

As Memorial Day approached, Congress had had enough. The House and Senate last week voted to bat any further court action and ordered construction to start immediately.

A group of World War II veterans gathered in front of the Capitol to protest what they felt was Congress' arbitrary action. Among them was Clark Ashby, who said he was ready to turn in his Purple Heart, adding, "It seems, if you excuse me, that Hitler won the war, because we were fighting against the very sort thing that's going on."

Despite the angry words, Richard Friedman, chairman of the National Planning Commission, said the long debate over the Memorial was healthy.

John Kennedy once said the difficult issues are the important ones. The Wold War II Memorial is important. The Mall is filled with the memory of great events.

History will decide whether the World War II Memorial is an architectural triumph or not. But history has no doubts about those who fought the war: They saved the world. All of America took part, civilians and military, men and women, people of every race and creed.

They said they were in it for the duration. But what they did was for all time.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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