For many years, I’ve passed Pershing Park and with a sigh and wave told tourists that one day the World War I Memorial would be built over the deteriorating site.
Finally, it’s opened. Not completed, but enough to remember The Great War.
The memorial to the beginning of the U.S. becoming a global superpower took a decade of planning, proposals and fundraising. And, another $1.5 million is needed to replace the tapestry that tells the story of a young man leaving home, fighting and returning into a bronze relief. That means another three years before the park is completed.
But, it’s a stark change from a woeful mess it replaced. Oh, the statue of General “Black Jack” Pershing, first commander of black troops, remains along with a nearby wall. But gone is the old ice-skating area and ice cream stand that have been abandoned for a decade or more. Instead is a seamless transition of marble to a new waterfall with steps and quotes. A bugler will return each evening at dusk to play “Taps.” Inside the circular wall on the eastern side is a Victory medallion where standing on it and talking creates an echo chamber.
I like feeling inside the city instead of the stand-alone memorials on the National Mall where isolation surrounds those marble markers. Instead, you can feel the pulse of the city with the White House nearby, the Willard Hotel aside and a long view down Pennsylvania Ave. With plenty of benches and steps, the area will remain a good option for group picnics.
Anything that follows the World War II Memorial is challenged to impress. The Eisenhower Memorial that opened last year draws shrugs. But, the World War I Memorial deserved remembering beyond the D.C. version of a bandstand on the mall. Most likely, visitors will trickle into it each day with bigger crowds during major events nearby.