Published: Thursday, September 14, 2017 @ 12:13 PM
Updated: Thursday, September 14, 2017 @ 12:13 PM
By: Jessica Wehrman - Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — To hear Reps. Joyce Beatty and Steve Stivers tell it, Columbus is an ideal place to host the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.
The state, they said hosts the 6th largest veterans population in the U.S. If that’s not enough, it’s within an eight–hour car ride of almost half of the nation’s veterans.
Speaking before a House panel Wednesday, Stivers and Beatty argued that a memorial to the nation’s veterans was long overdue — and that Columbus was all too happy to change that. The site, argued Stivers, “will serve as a civic landmark to honor, inspire and educate all Americans about the service and sacrifice of more than 22 million veterans in this country.”
Under construction and scheduled to open next summer, the site started as a replacement for Columbus’ previous veterans memorial and then blossomed into something far more sweeping and ambitious, said Stivers. Now, he, Beatty and Rep. Pat Tiberi, R–Genoa Township are pushing a bill that would designate it a national museum.
It wouldn’t be the state’s only museum honoring the armed services or those who have served: Roughly an hour’s drive away, Dayton hosts the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
During a hearing on the bill Wednesday, Matthew Sullivan, deputy undersecretary for finance and planning and CFO for the National Cemetery Administration for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the department neither supported nor opposed locating the museum in Columbus. “VA respectfully expresses no view on the proposed bill, which does not apply to VA or to VA’s core mission,” he testified.
But Alex Zhang, assistant director of National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation for the American Legion, said his organization backs the bill. He said the bill would “represent American veterans with profound respect, connecting them with the civilian population, possibly inspiring others to serve and most importantly, educating youth about what these fine men and women have done for America.”
The organization, he said, “wholeheartedly supports” the “beautiful, thoughtful” memorial’s designation, he said.
Veterans of Foreign Wars also backed the legislation, with John Towles, deputy director of national legislative service for the organization, telling the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs “our country currently lacks a museum specifically dedicated to honoring and preserving the collective sacrifices made by this nation’s veterans.”
“This museum would serve to fill that gap,” he said.
Groundbreaking for the 50,000 square foot museum and memorial began in 2015, and more than $75 million was raised for design and construction. It’s located at 300 West Broad St. in Columbus, site of the former Franklin County Veterans Memorial.
The entire Ohio congressional delegation is cosponsoring the bill, and Stivers said he hopes to tuck it into a larger legislative package in the months ahead. Sens. Sherrod Brown, D–Ohio, and Rob Portman, R–Ohio, are working on a similar measure in the Senate.
Beatty said the museum was in part the brainchild of former Ohio Sen. John Glenn, who died last year.
“If he were here today, he would highlight this museum and memorial,” she said. “He would talk about the 300 foot reflecting pool. He would talk about the memorial wall. He would talk about the sanctuary where veterans families and others could go.
“It’s a tremendous idea,” she told the panel. “And we ask for your support.”