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Memorial monument on Memorial Day


IF THINGS GO according to plan, President Bush will symbolically sign into law today a bill calling for construction of a $160 million monument on The Mall in Washington to Americans who took part in World War II.

It has been 56 years since the end of those hostilities, and still there is no monument.

A memorial on The Mall honors Korean War veterans, and two commemorate the men and women who served in the Vietnam War. But for 16.4 million American participants of the 20th century's central conflict, no monumental tribute exists.

What's planned is controversial: A 7.4-acre project midway between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial that will include a giant sunken stone plaza, a reflecting pool, 56 large commemorative pillars and two four-story triumphal arches.

Detractors had delayed construction to the point that it has taken longer to approve this project than it took to win the war.

Congress first started debating this memorial in 1987, it passed legislation in 1993, the site was picked in 1995, the design selected in 1996. But it still took an act of Congress this month to override protests that had prompted a court suit and persuaded a planning commission to reconsider both the memorial site and the design.

That's now history because Congress insisted there had been too much delay. The project received 22 public hearings and reviews by six agencies.

It's unfortunate that Congress opted to nullify existing planning procedures. That sets a poor precedent for future monument disputes. But it's cheering that World War II veterans finally will have their own spot on The Mall.

Time is of the essence: 1,100 veterans of that war are dying every day.

This memorial should enhance the majesty and grandeur of Washington's most important complex of tributes to our heroes.

Malevolent forces favoring fascism, dictatorship and genocide were defeated in World War II. It was a pivotal period, when "the greatest generation" and the United States came of age as the dominant world power.

Now is the moment to remember their sacrifices in a fitting way, especially on this Memorial Day.

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