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Visitors Center Revisited

Legislation for Vietnam Facility on the Mall Reintroduced

As America continues its war efforts in Iraq, bipartisan legislation was reintroduced in the House last week for the construction of a visitors’ center for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Exactly 21 years since ground was broken for the memorial, House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) introduced the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Visitor Center Act. The legislation would allow construction of a visitors’ center on the National Mall or adjacent to the grounds of the existing memorial.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a Vietnam combat veteran, will introduce similar legislation in the Senate either this week or next. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), also Vietnam combat veterans, will join Hagel as co-sponsors.

In the House, the bill is co-sponsored by Resources Vice Chairman Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.) and ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), along with Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.).

“Just as our soldiers are today fighting for freedom and democracy, the soldiers who served during the Vietnam War answered their nation’s call to duty and, as a country, we mustn’t forget, or take for granted, their selfless contribution,” Rahall said.

The underground center, expected to serve more than 4.4 million visitors annually, would allow self-guided tours for small groups of students and tourists. A historical record will be created using the names inscribed on the memorial.

This is the third time the visitors’ center legislation has been brought to Congress. Hagel and Murtha introduced the bill in the Senate and the House during the 106th Congress in September 2000. During the 107th Congress, it was reintroduced in February 2001, receiving support from more than 65 Senators and nearly 200 Members in the House. However, language attached to the bill that would have effectively prohibited any future memorials or “commemorative works” from being built on the Mall beyond the visitors’ center prevented passage. Members who support a future monument to former President Ronald Reagan or another president opposed the language.

The bill calls for the visitors’ center to be built at no cost to taxpayers. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, a nonprofit authorized by Congress in 1980 to build the memorial, would provide the funds for the center and continued maintenance, according to Vietnam Veteran Memorial Fund President Jan Scruggs.

“The Vietnam War Memorial is the most visited memorial in Washington,” Scruggs said. “It is an opportunity to turn the memorial into a very profound patriotic experience for today’s youth.”

Scruggs hopes to get the legislation completed as soon as possible.

“Once we get the bill passed we can start raising the money, planning and hiring people to do the actual design,” Scruggs said. “Assuming everything goes perfect we would have [the center] built within three years of passage.”

The initial memorial groundbreaking occurred March 26, 1982, with 100 Vietnam veterans present on the Mall. Inscribed with the names of those killed or who remain missing in action in Vietnam, the memorial was dedicated Nov. 13, 1982.

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