STATEMENT OF JOHN G. PARSONS, ASSOCIATE REGIONAL DIRECTOR, LANDS, RESOURCES, AND PLANNING, NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES CONCERNING S. 281, TO AUTHORIZE THE DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION OF A TEMPORARY EDUCATION CENTER AT THE VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL

JULY 17, 2001


Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interiorís views on S. 281, which would authorize the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to construct an education center at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall.

The Department strongly supports efforts to educate the public about the Vietnam War and about the men and women who bravely served our country in that war. However, we do have concerns with S. 281, as introduced. The structure that would be authorized by this legislation would detract from the visitorsí experience to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, and would set an unwelcome precedent for other memorials on the National Mall. Instead, we believe that other more suitable alternatives to the proposed education center should be explored. We look forward to working with the Committee on fulfilling the goal of the legislation of providing educational information about the Vietnam War, but doing so in ways that would not detract from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or visually impact the monumental core in our Nationís Capital.

S. 281 would authorize the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc. to construct an education center for the purpose of educating people about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It would replace the small National Park Service information kiosk (168 square feet) currently at the site. The new structure would be a maximum of 1,200 square feet in size. The legislation specifies that the center would be erected for 10 years and reevaluated by Congress at the end of that period. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc. would be responsible for paying for the cost of designing and constructing the center.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial generates a memorable emotional response from virtually all who visit it. Although not part of the original design, several elements have been added to the memorial, including the flagpole and the Three Servicemen statue. A separate Memorial to Women who Served in Vietnam was constructed in 1993, and the In Memory Plaque, to those veterans who died after the war as a direct result of their military service in Vietnam, was authorized last year. The Department believes that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is complete and should not be subject to further additions. While we support the effort to provide the public with an opportunity to learn more about history of the Vietnam War, we believe that we risk diminishing the original work by adding adjunct structures to this site.

The education center authorized by S. 281 would not simply be another design element added to the memorial. The proposed structure would be more than seven times the size of the existing information kiosk and would visually intrude on and detract from the memorial as the focal point of the visitor's experience. In addition, this proposal would violate concepts contained in the Master Plan for Memorials and Museums in the Nationís Capital, which is being developed by a joint task force of commissions, under the leadership of the National Capital Planning Commission. That plan precludes such facilities within Area I and has gone through a public review and comment period, where endorsement was urged. On April 26, 2001, the National Capital Memorial Commission recommended opposing the bill by a unanimous vote at its public meeting.

Similar facilities have been disapproved or precluded at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt, World War II, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorials by the National Park Service, the National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission of Fine Arts because they would intrude on those works of landscape architecture. Each of these memorials represents a historical figure or time period important to our Nation. However, a determination was made that opportunities to educate the public further about these historical people and events could be accomplished in ways that would not detract from the memorials.

Groups who support similar facilities at these and other memorials may be watching our action on S. 281 with great interest. If an education center were to be authorized for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, similar proposals for the other war memorials would likely follow. Proponents of the education center express concern about visitorsí lack of fundamental understanding of the Vietnam War, but the same could be said to be true for visitors to the Nationís Capitalí memorials for the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Korean War, and the nearby District of Columbia World War I Memorial and the soon-to-be-constructed World War II Memorial.

One alternative to placing facilities at these memorials is to provide education about all of the wars that are part of our Nationís history in one museum. In fact, Congress has already begun the process of developing the kind of facility we believe would be appropriate for telling the story of our Vietnam veterans and the Vietnam War by establishing a Commission on the National Military Museum as part of the Department of Defense Authorization for Fiscal Year 2000 (P.L. 106-65). The commission established by that law is charged with developing preliminary proposals for a national military museum in the National Capital Area. If the commission recommends establishing such a facility on Navy Annex property in Arlington, Virginia, the law further provides that the Secretary of Defense may make 10 acres of that property available for that purpose. Wherever the museum is located, it presumably would be easily accessible to those who visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as well as other war memorials on the Mall. Once the military museum is established, we envision coordinating with the Defense Department to ensure that visitors to the military memorials in the Nationís Capital that are managed by the National Park Service are encouraged to visit the museum to learn more about the history of the wars.

Exploring other projects or sites also would allow us to find a location that is large enough to tell a more complete story of the Vietnam War. S. 281 proposes a 1,200 square-foot structure which may actually be too small for the purpose it is intended to serve. It is questionable whether it is possible to treat the Vietnam War with the range and depth that could be considered minimally appropriate in a structure of this size. It would be too small for the high volume of visitation at the memorial, which is approximately four million annually.

The Department is firmly committed to educating the public about the Vietnam War and its impact on the history of our Nation. We have been involved in several types of educational programs. For nearly ten years, the Smithsonian has displayed an exhibit of the offerings left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and collected by National Park Service rangers. Other exhibits of offerings collected by the National Park Service have traveled to schools, universities, museums and veterans centers all over the world. In addition, the National Park Service has published a book and CD- ROM on the history of the memorial and the Vietnam War and runs a website designed to educate children about museum collections, including those associated with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The National Park Service has been involved in a number of news programs and television specials on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the history of the Vietnam War.

The goal of S. 281 of educating the public about the Vietnam War is an admirable one, and one which the Department has and will continue to fully support. We strongly believe that this important goal can be accomplished in a different manner than prescribed by this legislation. We look forward to working with the Committee in exploring projects or sites that give us the best opportunity to tell the story of the Vietnam War and the men and women who served our Nation.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions

you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.