Gold Star families want National Mall memorial for service members killed in war on terror, decry delays

Gold Star families are demanding answers after their pleas to get a Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) memorial built on the National Mall appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

In June, 40 families whose loved ones died while serving the country sent a letter to Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, to hold a hearing on the memorial’s location.

That was months before President Biden pulled all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31, ending the country’s longest war; months before 13 U.S. service members were killed in an Aug. 26 explosion in Kabul; and months before the U.S. remembered those nearly 3,000 people who died 20 years ago in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Families say they still have not heard back about holding a hearing on the memorial’s location and are now demanding answers. Jennie Taylor, a mother of seven from Utah whose husband was killed in 2018 in Afghanistan, sent her own letter to Grijalva asking about a hearing. 

President Biden salutes during the dignified transfer of the remains of U.S. Military service members who were killed by a suicide bombing at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, Aug. 29, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

President Biden salutes during the dignified transfer of the remains of U.S. Military service members who were killed by a suicide bombing at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, Aug. 29, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

“We’re sad. We’re heartbroken. We’re anguished. Now, we’re kind of getting irritated,” Taylor told Fox News in an interview. “…All we’re really asking is: Can we let Congress vote on where to put this? Because we’re confident that Congress will vote to put it on the Mall. Open the vote.”

The World War II Memorial on the National Mall, nestled at the base of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, was built in 2001, 56 years after the war ended. Survivors who visit the memorial today are often seen being pushed in wheelchairs or escorted by volunteers, Taylor noted. 

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The National World War I Memorial was not completed until 2021 — though an initial American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Memorial was built in the same spot in 1981 — in Pershing Park, more than a century after “The War to End All Wars” concluded.

“Are we going to do that again?” Taylor asked. “…My heart right now really goes out to the survivors. I don’t mean surviving families like mine. I mean the men and women who fought in Afghanistan and came home healthy and fine. My heart breaks for them because they lived through it. And they recall it. And their friends lived through it. And now they’re watching these things unfold in turmoil, and my heart just goes out for them.”

World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Fox News)

World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Fox News)

She added that while her husband gave his life for the safety of his country, other service members give their lives while serving in the Army, the Marines, the Navy and the Air Force, and the memorials in D.C. are “physical manifestation of what America represents.”

Jane Horton, who lost her husband in Afghanistan in 2011, said that if lawmakers truly cared about the 13 service members killed last week as they expressed in tweets and press releases, they would “be willing to honor them the way they deserve.”

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“It’s entirely disrespectful. Completely and utterly disrespectful,” Horton said of the fact that she and the other 39 Gold Star families who signed the June letter have not heard back from anyone about the prospect of a hearing. “…This is more important than ever because we don’t have a place to grieve. We don’t have a place to come together to honor our service and sacrifice.”

Grijalva’s office directed Fox News to the House Committee on Natural Resources, which said it would circle back regarding a potential hearing on the memorial’s location.

The U.S. Capitol is seen at dawn from the U.S. Marine Corps Iwo Jima War Memorial, in the day of the 75th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Iwo Jima in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

The U.S. Capitol is seen at dawn from the U.S. Marine Corps Iwo Jima War Memorial, in the day of the 75th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Iwo Jima in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

After the 13 service members, including 11 Marines, one Army soldier and a Navy corpsman, were killed on Aug. 26 in a suicide bombing outside Hamid Karzai International Airport, D.C. residents and visitors held a vigil at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, to remember the fallen.

The terror group ISIS-K group claimed responsibility for the attack seeking to disrupt the massive evacuation effort of Americans, Afghan allies, and third-party nationals outside the U.S.-held airport.

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“When you lose 11 Marines in one minute, of course, you want to gather in that brother and sisterhood, but where do you go? Well, for the Marines, they have the Marine Corps War Memorial,” Taylor said. “I can see that as being beautiful, and that’s appropriate, and that’s fine, but guess what? A sailor died that day. And a soldier died that day. And every one of us who remember our loved ones who died in the same war relived in that day. Where do we go together?”

The Global War on Terrorism Memorial Act, which authorized the construction of a GWOT memorial on the National Mall, was unanimously passed more than four years ago in August of 2017. The nonprofit GWOT Memorial Foundation would privately fund the monument, meaning no taxpayer dollars would be used in the construction of the memorial.

A large group of people gather at the United States Marine Corps War Memorial for a candlelight vigil in memory of the 11 Marines, one Navy Corpsman and one U.S. Army Soldier who lost their lives on August 26, 2021. U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Kelly L. Timney/Handout via REUTERS

A large group of people gather at the United States Marine Corps War Memorial for a candlelight vigil in memory of the 11 Marines, one Navy Corpsman and one U.S. Army Soldier who lost their lives on August 26, 2021. U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Kelly L. Timney/Handout via REUTERS

Two years later, The Global War on Terrorism Memorial Location Act was introduced in November of 2019 but has since stalled. 

The legislation has been reintroduced in 2020 and 2021 but has yet to make any significant movement, which is why families are speaking out. Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., sponsored the House version of the bill Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, sponsored the Senate version of the bill this year.

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On June 23, Michael Caldwell of the Interior Department’s National Park Service issued a statement to Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., saying that while the department supports the construction of a GWOT memorial, it does “not support constructing it within the Reserve, and therefore” does not support the Senate version of the bill.

The Commemorative Works Act of 1986 “identifies the Reserve as ‘the great cross-axis of the Mall,’ which extends from the United States Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, and from the White House to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial,” and states that “the siting of new commemorative works” one of three locations within the Reserve — Constitution Gardens, the JFK Hockey Fields or West Potomac Park — “is prohibited,” which could be a roadblock in memorial advocates’ efforts to decide on a location in D.C.

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Fox News has not received any updates from lawmakers on the legislation or efforts to hold a hearing.

“I am confident that when the Congress and the Senate get to actually vote on this as a body, it will pass with bipartisan support, and we will have a beautiful memorial in a few years that my children will be able to go to, and my grandchildren and their grandchildren will be able to come and talk about their grandfather, who was so brave,” Taylor said.

She noted that if Congress does not pass the bill this year, like in previous years, lawmakers and advocates of the memorial “will have to start all over next year.”

Fox News’ Michael Lee contributed to this report.

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