Plans for both sites were signed into law by President Joe Biden on Monday, advancing months of work by advocates on both projects. Supporters hailed the news as an important step to keep military sacrifices and heroism at the forefront of the American public’s mind.
“Today we rejoice in this monumental victory, but we also know that there is still a long road ahead before we cut the ribbon on a memorial,” said Ken Hersh, vice chairman of the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation, in a statement.
“Our goal is to create an inclusive and enduring place of honor for all who served and were impacted by this conflict, whether in uniform or otherwise.”
Groundbreaking on both memorials is likely years away.
Congress approved plans for a Global War on Terror Memorial in 2017. Unlike other monuments to specific military conflicts, the plans for the GWOT tribute set were approved before the official closure of military operations because of the open-ended nature of the conflict.
While fund-raising and preparation work has been ongoing over the last four years (the memorial will be built entirely with private funding), advocates are pressuring lawmakers to approve legislation to set aside a section of the National Mall for the pending memorial, arguing it deserves a place of high prominence.
The Mall is already home to the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial, as well as iconic attractions such as the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.
Lawmakers approved the National Mall location for the new GWOT memorial as part of this year’s defense authorization bill, which was finalized by the White House on Monday.
The provision was championed in recent months by a host of House and Senate lawmakers, including veterans Rep. Jason Crow, D-Pa.; Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc.; and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.
“The time to honor these heroes of our nation’s longest war and their families is now, and there is no more fitting way to do that than with a memorial on our National Mall to serve as a permanent testament of their selflessness for generations to come,” Ernst said in a statement.
Hersh said foundation officials will now shift their focus to working with National Park Service officials on identifying a specific site for the memorial, a process that likely puts construction still several years away.
By comparison, the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial was approved by Congress in 2014, its inclusion on the National Mall approved in 2017, and a site approved in 2018. Groundbreaking is expected to start next year, with a completion goal of sometime in 2023.
In a separate bill Monday, Biden approved plans for the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation to “establish a commemorative work to honor Medal of Honor Recipients” in the Washington, D.C. area.
“Recognition in our nation’s capital for those who received our country’s highest award for valor in combat is long overdue,” Chris Cassidy, president and CEO of the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation, said in a statement.
“This monument will be a beacon for the enduring values the Medal of Honor represents: courage and sacrifice, commitment and integrity, citizenship and patriotism.”
Like the GWOT Memorial, the Medal of Honor tribute site will be built entirely with private funds. Site selection and planning are expected to take place over the next few years.
Fewer than 4,000 Americans have been awarded the Medal of Honor, and only 66 recipients are alive today.
More than 2 million U.S. troops have served overseas in military operations connected to the War on Terror, and more than 7,000 service members have lost their lives in those conflicts.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.