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Life in the Monument Business: Pigeons, Vandals, Floods

August 28, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The planners of a memorial for the nation’s 5.7 million Korean War veterans were already beset with the usual monument concerns - money, vandals and pigeons.

So when weather researchers projected this summer that the memorial site could be underwater by the year 2050, the American Battle Monuments Commission decided that was a problem that just would have to be dealt with later.

Think building a monument is easy?

Organizers of the $6 million project won the government’s blessing in 1986 for a prime spot on the Mall, near the Tidal Basin and directly across the Reflecting Pool from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The design - submitted by Pennsylvania State University architects - was supposed to be a secret until President Bush presided over the unveiling as a military band played patriotic songs at a White House ceremony on Flag Day last June.

But, in typical Washington fashion, word leaked out beforehand that the architects contemplated statues of 38 soldiers marching unevenly down a tree- lined path toward an American flag.

While the design was praised by veterans’ groups, the planners face some vexing problems.

First, the location.

″It’s going to be way out there by itself, and the potential for vandalism is pretty high,″ said Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Coon of the monuments’ commission staff.

″It’s very tempting to go up and rub the statues and touch and maybe break off a finger or two. One lady even wrote about pigeons sitting on them or dropping on them,″ Coon said.

This summer, the Washington Post published a map showing how much of the Mall would be under water when the region gets the type of flooding that is expected to occur every 50 years. The Korean memorial site was in a prime flooding spot.

″Somebody, someday will have to be concerned about that,″ Coon said.

The four Penn State architects are already concerned about it, although lately their efforts have focused more on getting their design approved by a battery of planning and parks commissions.

The designers were picked by a jury of Korean War veterans from among 1,019 entrants, and they are not about to let their work be ruined by water or vandals.

The flood forecast represents ″a geotechnic problem that has to be addressed. We’re talking to engineers,″ said Don Leon, an associate architecture professor who is one of the designers.

As for vandalism, ″You address those problems by understanding the type of materials to be used,″ Leon said.

The group is considering making the statues out of granite.

The commission has raised $3.5 million of the $6 million it estimates the memorial will cost. The money must be on hand by the time the project’s legislative authority expires in October 1991 or the collected funds are supposed to be returned, according to Coon.

″That’s a nightmare thinking about returning all the money. Somebody would come through before that, I’m sure,″ Coon said.

Despite the problems, the designers don’t expect the memorial to stir the controversy that surrounded the Vietnam memorial, which some veterans criticized as unheroic.

The Vietnam memorial is a V-shaped wall bearing the names of those killed in the war. A statue of three battle-weary soldiers stands nearby as a concession to the critics.

Coon said some people have questioned why the names of Korean War veterans will not also appear on a wall at the new site.

They were told that simply wasn’t the plan, he said.

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