House Approves Underground Visitor Center Near Vietnam Memorial

Mon November 03, 2003 - National Edition

WASHINGTON (AP) The House on Wednesday, Oct. 15, approved building an underground Vietnam Veterans Memorial visitor center, which lawmakers said would teach people about the black granite wall and the more than 58,000 names engraved on it.

“Too many visitors to the wall walk away not truly knowing the impact the Vietnam War had on our country,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Richard Pombo, R-CA.

Under the legislation passed by voice vote, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund would pay for the center’s design and construction and would maintain its exhibits, while the government would keep the center operating. Spokesman Alan Greilsamer said the group hoped to have the center built by 2005 or 2006 at an estimated cost of $8 million to $10 million.

Planned exhibits include photographs of some of the men and women who died in the war and displays of the thousands of items left over the years at the wall, which is Washington’s most popular memorial with more than 4 million visitors a year.

The Senate passed similar legislation in July, and the differences must now be hammered out in conference, including whether to prohibit any more statues near the wall.

Since the memorial opened in 1982, related structures have been built near it, including the Three Servicemen Statue and a memorial dedicated to women.

The National Park Service had earlier protested the visitor center, saying that it could further clutter the area.

“With each addition, the [Interior] Department has been concerned about the risk of diminishing the original work,” said P. Daniel Smith, special assistant to the National Park Service director, at a May hearing on the proposed center.

The bills are H.R. 1442 and S. 1076.