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Officials Plan Announcement of WWI Memorial Design Team

By Lisa Ferdinando DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, January 6, 2016 — The winning design team for the national World War I memorial will be announced Jan. 25, the commission charged with overseeing the centennial commemoration of the war has announced.

The design concept will be from one of the five finalist teams that presented plans to the design jury today, according to Edwin Fountain, vice chairman of the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission.

The memorial will incorporate both park and memorial elements and will serve as an important tribute to the men and women who served 100 years ago, Fountain said.

"It was a profoundly nation-changing and world-changing event that is too little understood in this country today," said Fountain, who is the grandson of two World War I veterans.

Site Across From White House Chosen

The memorial will be located in in Pershing Park, across the street from the White House. The park already features a statue of World War I Army Gen. John J. Pershing, so it made sense to select that site, the commission’s vice chairman said.

Pershing Park is on Pennsylvania Avenue, "the most symbolically important concourse in the country, as it links the Capitol and the White House," he added. The Capitol building is visible from the site as well, he noted.

"We feel those elements lend a certain significance and grandeur to the site that make it a fitting site for a national war memorial," Fountain said.

Restrictions on new construction prohibited the memorial from being built on the National Mall, where national memorials for other conflicts are located, he explained.

Profound War

Despite its significance in world history, World War I is overlooked, Fountain said.

"We have on the Mall the memorials to not just World War II, but also to Korea and Vietnam, which were obviously major events in our history that involve great sacrifice by our servicemen and great sacrifice by the nation itself," he said.

World War I, known at the time as the "Great War," began in July 1914 with the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It ended with the armistice on Nov. 11, 1918. The U.S. military suffered 116,516 deaths during the war.

"What is forgotten in this country is that … just in terms of numbers, we had more casualties in World War I than in Korea and Vietnam combined in a very short period of time," he said.

The war was "every bit as profound" as the other wars that Americans are more familiar with, he said. There are no living World War I veterans, Fountain said, but descendants of those who served in the war have supported the efforts for the memorial.

Generating the political and popular support for this kind of effort has been challenging, Fountain acknowledged. "But we obviously think it's very important to do so,” he added, “and the centennial is the best time to do that."

Many details will remain to be worked out after the winner is announced, he said, including fundraising efforts for the project. In addition, the winning concept will go through an extensive design review from the Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission, and the National Park Service, he said. 

The commission hopes to begin construction on Veterans Day 2017, with a possible dedication on Veterans Day 2018, Fountain said.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter @FerdinandoDoD)