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A monumental fight over World War II

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George Washington waited 89 years for his obelisk on the Mall. Abraham Lincoln's monument took 67. For the generation that fought World War II, it will be 55 years, if groundbreaking proceeds on Veterans Day this fall - relatively fast work, as great monuments go.

But long overdue, if you're among the 5.7 million veterans wondering why Vietnam and Korean veterans already have their honored spot on the Mall, and you do not. It's also overdue if one of the objects of the memorial is to make sure that as many veterans as possible get to see it.

It's that sense of urgency that's now driving a design approval process that critics say is deeply flawed and could leave the Mall bulging with monuments instead of inspiring vistas.

Location, location, location

The 7.4-acre site for the new memorial is between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The prominence of the site conveys the reverence and importance of the event, supporters say.

Initially, the site was to be in Constitution Gardens - on the Mall, but north of its central axis. Key planners asked for a change.

"We felt it was not a prominent enough site to reflect the importance of World War II in the 20th century," says Charles Atherton, secretary of the Commission of Fine Arts, which recommended a move to the current site at the end of the Reflecting Pool.

But the prominence of the site also forced planners to scale down the design of the project, which once included an underground museum. The more central the site, the more critical that it be simple, transparent, and not detract from the other vistas on the Mall, sponsors said.

The project had to be "designed for transparency," says architect Friedrich St. Florian, who won the competition to design the memorial among some 400 submissions.

The design competition emphasized three qualities: artistry, spiritual substance, and respect for the memorial's environs. "It should stand for all time as an important symbol of American national unity, a timeless reminder of the moral strength and the awesome power that can flow when a free people are at once united and bonded together in a common and just cause," said competition guidelines.

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