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Bill for preserving D-Day Memorial gains momentum

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Foundation director talks to Congressional committee

By John Barnhart

Last week Fifth District Congressman Tom Perriello testified to the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources in support of his legislation, H.R. 2689, which would begin the process for bringing the National D-Day Memorial under the purview of the National Park Service.

    Additionally, Dr. William McIntosh, president and CEO of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation, testified.

    Perriello introduced his legislation on June 3. Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb introduced companion legislation in the Senate on June 8, and the bill was included as an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the U.S. Senate on July 23. On Sept.16, Perriello wrote to the chair and ranking member of the Committee on Armed Services urging them to protect this amendment as the bill moves through conference.     There is fear without help from the federal government that the D-Day Memorial won’t be able to stay open through the first of the year.

    “I first spoke to Dr. McIntosh many months ago about the dire financial situation of the Memorial and I have since worked with him to help find a solution to resolve the difficulties facing the Memorial,” Perriello testified before the committee last week. “The National D-Day Memorial remembers and preserves the lessons and legacy of D-Day, forever memorializing the lives lost on June 6, 1944.”

    Perriello, in his testimony, recounted the fate of the Bedford Boys at D-Day. “The men we lost were local heroes, but the freedom and security bought with their sacrifice is a national treasure,” he said. “This story of sacrifice at D-Day is not just a story that took place on the beaches of Normandy but a tale of local communities across America. The battlefield may have been in Europe but the losses were felt here at home.”

     The National D-Day Memorial was authorized by President Bill Clinton in 1996, and dedicated by President George W. Bush in 2001. This past June was the 65th Anniversary of D-Day. Just shortly before the Anniversary Elisha Ray Nance, the last surviving “Bedford Boy,” passed away at the age of 94. 

    In August, the National Park Service made a site visit to the D-Day Memorial to follow up on a request from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to study the suitability of using the Antiquities Act to preserve the Memorial. In the words of Secretary Salazar, “The memorial stands as a symbol of the courage and sacrifices of all members of the United States and Allied Forces who began the liberation of northwest Europe as part of Operation Overlord.”

    Perriello noted that the question of the suitability of using the Antiquities Act, while an important road to consider, is separate and distinct from the more traditional method to authorize a full study of the feasibility of designating the National D-Day Memorial as part of the National Park System. “I am not here to speak about the ongoing activities within the National Parks Service in studying the Memorial and the Antiquities Act, but rather advocate for the legislation before this subcommittee that would provide for the protection and preservation of the Memorial through the traditional process should the Antiquities Act be found unsuitable,” he stated.

    Perriello said the Memorial is far more than just a structure. “Dedicated to preserving the lessons and legacy of D-Day, the Memorial works to educate all generations about the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of the Allied Forces,” he told the committee. “The Memorial works to teach current generations about the Greatest Generation and what life was like not just for those fighting on D-Day but their friends, families, and communities back home during the war.”

    He made note of the Memorial’s Victory Garden in which at-risk youth are taught about the war effort at home by growing their own fruits and vegetables and the effort to work with veterans of World War II to preserve oral histories and their memories of D-Day and the war. “This is a national treasure that serves as a permanent reminder of the bravery and heroism of our American armed forces,” he told the committee.

    In a phone interview, Tuesday, Dr. McIntosh said that the hearing was inconclusive, that is, he didn’t walk away with definite answers. However, he knew that would be the result becasue that wasn’t the purpose of the hearing. What it did was give him a chance to testify before the House subcommittee that has oversight of Park Service issues and to present the D-Day Memorial in a positive light.

    “Is the Foundation going to go in debt to keep the Memorial open?” Dr. McIntosh said in his testimony. “No. Is the Memorial worth keeping open? Yes. Can it be kept open? Yes — if the Congress that gave it its designation in 1996 to become the National D-Day Memorial will do what it should have done then: Enact legislation to help place it under the umbrella of the National Park Service.”

    Along with Congressman Perriello and Dr. McIntosh, the subcommittee heard from representatives of the Department of the Interior.

    “The Department recommends deferring action on H.R. 2689 to allow the National Park Service to complete a report on a preliminary assessment, requested by Secretary Salazar, as to whether the D-Day Memorial would be eligible for inclusion into the National Park System. This would also give the Secretary an opportunity to review the report and to share its contents with the members of the Virginia delegation.” that report stated.

    This report will be the result of a site visit conducted by a Park Service Team headed by Terrence D. Moore, chief of planning and compliance for the Park Service’s Northeast Region. The report is to determine if the Memorial is eligible to be taken into the Park Service via the Antiquities Act of 1906. Park Service testimony before the subcommittee stated that the team is still analyzing the documents provided and expects to make a report to the Secretary of the Interior this fall.

    “In light of this current analysis, the Department believes it is premature to consider the authorization of a Special Resource Study. We respectfully request that the committee defer action on this bill until the Secretary has had an opportunity to review the National Park Service team report and to share its contents with the members of the Virginia delegation,” Park Service testimony concluded.

    Dr. McIntosh said he understands that there is a question of whether bringing the D-Day Memorial into the National Park system via the Antiquities Act is appropriate. This act has normally been used to preserve either natural resources or the actual site where an event occurred. McIntosh said that he understands that Moore’s report will probably state that more study is required.

    The process that Congressman Perriello’s bill, if passed by Congress, would initiate is a resource study. This is a lengthy process and Dr. McIntosh said there are 50 other sites currently waiting for such a study.

    “This is something that will take a long time to occur,” he said.

    If it does, it may come too late. Dr. McIntosh believes that the Memorial can’t survive another two years without the kind of support the National Park Service would bring.

    “Clearly we are not going to be able to sustain the operations we have indefinitely,” he said.

    Right now, he’s looking at options to try to stretch the Memorial’s funding out. One possibility is to open the Memorial on a seasonal basis, closing it during times when visitation is slow.