Alexandria, VA – An article the other day caught my attention about a new memorial in downtown Washington D.C. The memorial will commemorate Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm (1990-1991). These two operations were a rousing victory for the United States and a coalition of 33 other nations allied to defeat Saddam Hussein’s incursion and military occupation of neighboring Kuwait.
The National Desert Storm War Memorial Association is moving forward on a $40 million memorial to be erected on the National Mall. In 2014 the House voted unanimously to authorize the memorial to be built in D.C., and then-President Obama signed the bill into law. Three years later, then-President Trump signed a law authorizing it to be built on the National Mall, and a site was approved in 2018.
It was dedicated on 26 February 2019, to be built on the SW corner of Constitution Avenue and 23rd Street NW near the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial. The law says that before groundbreaking, it must achieve 110% of the projected budget. According to the website, all funds will be private.
I was fortunate to serve during Operation Desert Storm, recalled to active duty to defend Norfolk against imminent Iraqi invasion. I am proud to say that during my tenure as Executive Officer of Special Boat Unit TWENTY, not one single Iraqi Navy ship entered Little Creek Harbor. (1)
The night of the invasion in February 1991, I was in my quarters watching Baghdad explode on CNN when there was a knock at my door. A messenger said I needed to get over to the command immediately; a Flash Precedence message had just come in and I needed to respond within minutes to its contents. I threw on a uniform and raced across the base with two Base Police cars in hot pursuit with lights flashing since I was speeding.
At the compound gate, I shouted to the officers that it was an emergency and threw the officers my car keys, fully expecting a giant fine, and disappeared into the inner sanctum to read the message. Once I had digested the contents, I told the watch section to recall everyone to the command compound.
Over the next four days, the activity was frenzied. We packed up two boat crews’ worth of sailors and shipped them off to the Middle East. The rest of us stalwart defenders of democracy watched the war from afar, again on CNN, training future boat crews to deploy forward.
After ten months, I was demobilized and went back to my civilian job. Gone for ten months, many co-workers thought I was a new employee. I was proud of my service during Desert Storm, but now it was time to get back to the real world.
I mention all this because when I read about the new Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm Memorial, I wondered how it could come to be, considering the lives and sacrifice of American service members in past wars and conflicts. My curiosity led me to research the costs, in human lives and sacrifice, over the course of our history, and I compiled the chart you’ll find on this page.
In high school, a buddy and I would take a Trailways bus into the District and cruise the museums and monuments. (2) I remember when we “discovered” the World War I memorial nestled in a brace of trees near the Tidal Basin. It was a simple Greek-style monument dedicated after WWI to remember the sacrifices of that war. I was amazed that such a major conflict would merit such a simple, nearly obscure monument.
Today, with the WWII, Vietnam, and projected new WWI memorials, the National Mall is being inundated with remembrances. Reading about the memorial commemorating our 1991 foray into Kuwait has struck me as a bit obsessive, if not self-serving. Yet another memorial on the Mall to yet another war, and one which, in terms of sacrifice, pales in comparison to the others that have drained the youth of our country in our past, surprises me.
Arlington National Cemetery is nearly out of space. There are 25 to 30 funerals a day with only 95,000 below ground spaces remaining. As a result, Arlington is revising the criteria and tightening the requirements for those who merit burial at the nation’s most prominent cemeteries. At the current rate, Arlington Cemetery is projected to be out of burial spaces by 2041.
The Desert Storm Memorial is certainly appropriate due to the carnage that every war leaves in its wake. We all owe a debt of gratitude for those who have served and the sacrifices endured when the nation has called them.
The National Park Service manages over 150 reservations (parks), memorials, statues, fountains, and green spaces comprising some 1,000 acres in the District. Besides the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and dozens of other well-known and well-visited sites, it provides care and proper adult supervision for more unusual or obscure memorials and sites that likely appeal to a niche audience of aficionados who actually know who these people were or understand the significance of the events surrounding the monument or memorial.
Some of these include the Edward R. Murrow Park (Reporter), the John Ericsson Memorial (ship designer), Milian Park (Spanish inventor), Samuel Hahnemann Monument (founder of homeopathy), the Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk statue (founder of Czechoslovakia), (3) and the Temperance Fountain and Statue. (4)
I may take some hits for drawing this conclusion, but with space being at a premium in our nation’s capital, the proposed Operation Desert Storm Memorial may find itself on the list of the more obscure sites that our Park Service has to watch over.
I think it’s time we help out our folks from the Park Service and take a good long look at priorities for space on the National Mall for the future. Or before too long, we may never find a tree there, or a pond, or a place to park.
Endnotes: (1) You’re welcome. (2) I was really popular in high school. (3) Czechoslovakia was always there before, but he “founded” it according to the literature. Who knew it was lost? (4) Donated by Dr. Henry Cogswell DDS, a temperance crusader, who had the statue include dolphins who would have ice-water flow from their snouts for people to have cool water to drink. The Park Service had to constantly replace the ice in the system so, like all good public servants, they disconnected the pipes.