The World War I Centennial Commission has selected a final design for a memorial to the Great War in Washington, D.C., that will feature an open plaza of bas-relief panels, freestanding sculptures and green space that its architect says exalts "humanity and the human spirit over the glorification of war."
"The Weight of Sacrifice," by Joe Weishaar, 25, a 2013 University of Arkansas graduate who now works in Chicago, and New York-based sculptor Sabin Howard, was selected from a field of five finalists in an international competition that drew more than 350 entries.
The design will serve as the basis for the memorial to be built on the site of Pershing Park, a property of the National Park Service near the White House that currently holds a monument to Gen. John "Blackjack" Pershing in an urban park setting.
World War I Centennial Commission officials said the winning design celebrates the diversity of the Americans who served in the war, which the U.S. joined in 1917.
"For too long, one specific war has been left out of our national consciousness. Today we take a great step in righting that wrong," commission member Libby O'Connell said.
The winning design retains the statue of Pershing but completely changes the park landscape, adding bronze sculptures and walls etched with quotations and likenesses of those who served.
Much of the memorial will remain as green space, including a lawn containing 116,516 cubic feet of soil — one foot for each American who died — numerous trees and park space.
"The integration of a park around and atop the memorial alludes to the idea that public space and personal freedom are only available through the sacrifice of our soldiers," Weishaar and his design team wrote in the entry.
More than 4.7 million Americans served in World War I, which began in Europe in 1914. The U.S. entered the war largely in response to increased attacks on American ships by German U-boats and a proposed alliance between Germany and Mexico.
The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act designated two sites as national World War I memorials: the existing World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, and the Pershing Park location.
The District of Columbia War Memorial, an elegant marble bandstand that was erected in 1931 on the National Mall, also commemorates World War I, but is one of many local memorials to the conflict and not a national monument, explained commission vice chairman Edwin Fountain.
The commission will need to raise at least $40 million to build the project and hopes to dedicate it on the 100th anniversary of the war's end, Nov. 11, 2018, according to Fountain.
Despite an enthusiastic crowd at the announcement, which included members of Congress, a Pershing relative and members of the American Legion, the project is not without controversy. A group called the Cultural Landscape Foundation has voiced opposition to demolishing the current plaza and gardens, which were designed by acclaimed modernist landscape architect Paul Friedberg.
The National Park Service also has identified Pershing Park as being eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as it currently is designed. Even though a National Register designation does not bar changes to the site or add protections, it would bolster efforts to preserve the existing plaza.
Fountain said the commission will work closely with the bodies that need to approve the new park, including the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission, and stressed that the chosen design is a "work in progress."
The last American World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, died in 2011 at age 110.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., said that although no World War I veterans are alive, it is still important to build the memorial since the outcome of the war continues to influence history.
"It is important to have a monument to this war so that people don't just remember the history of the war but the hell of the war," Cleaver said.
In addition to Weishaar and Howard, the larger design team includes the firms GWWO Inc., Phoebe Lickwar (who is a landscape architect), Henry Adams Consulting Engineers, and Keast & Hood.
Patricia Kime covers military and veterans' health care and medicine for Military Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.