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Supporters of new Medal of Honor monument ask Congress for permission to build on National Mall

Jul 13 2023
Rose L. Thayer | Stars and Stripes

Supporters of a monument in Washington, D.C., to honor the Medal of Honor asked members of Congress on Thursday to grant an exemption to federal law and allow it to be built on the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial.

The National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation, which is the driving force behind the monument, has asked for the location because President Abraham Lincoln established the medal in 1861 and presented the first awards in 1863. To do so, Congress would need to provide an exception to a 20-year-old law prohibiting any new commemorative works in what’s known as “the reserve,” a no-build zone that encompasses most of the National Mall.

“This monument is a way for Lincoln's voice of reason to continue gently whispering into the future, admonishing us to focus on the things which unite us and on our shared values,” retired Navy SEAL Britt Slabinski, a Medal of Honor recipient and foundation board member, said to the House Committee on Natural Resources subpanel on federal lands.

By placing the monument near Lincoln’s memorial, the former master chief petty officer said, “It will stand humbly and respectfully as a guard over his legacy and the ideals that held our country together.”

The Medal of Honor is the highest valor award available to military members, and Slabinski said the monument is not intended to honor valor or the 3,560 recipients of the medal but rather the “enduring values which motivate the citizen soldier to risk their life for those around them.”

Reps. Blake Moore, R-Utah, and Marc Veasey, D-Texas, introduced the Hershel “Woody” Williams National Medal of Honor Monument Location Act in April, after their joint effort to get the monument built on federal land in the nation’s capital passed into law in December 2021. They named the bill to honor Williams, who died last year as the last living recipient of the Medal of Honor from World War II.

Williams’s family and Army Lt. Col. Will Swenson, a Medal of Honor recipient, were at the hearing Thursday.

“Now more than ever, it is crucial for us to reconnect with our national roots and create a monument in the heart of our democracy that will serve as a powerful symbol for our enduring gratitude and admiration for our nation's brave and selfless defenders,” Moore said.

The National Mall stretches from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, and the White House to the Jefferson Memorial. The National Park Service estimates roughly 32 million people visit each year.