Two D.C. sites posed for Gulf War wall
Two state vets advance monument
WASHINGTON — More than a quarter-century after helping to liberate Kuwait, two Gulf War veterans from Arkansas are battling to build a monument honoring all those who served beside them.
Jeff Kurczek of Sherwood and Brenten Byrd of Elm Springs serve on the board of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association, which has spearheaded the campaign.
The group, which is incorporated in Arkansas, doesn’t have any Hollywood celebrities or Wall Street billionaires on its board, but it does have key allies in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., has championed their cause on Capitol Hill, twice successfully guiding their proposals through Congress.
In late 2014, then-President Barack Obama signed legislation authorizing construction of a monument. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump signed Senate Joint Resolution 1, which allows the memorial to be built in “Area 1” — the designation that is given to key land in the capital’s monument zone.
Later this month, the National Park Service will hold a hearing on the proposal, and officials are inviting the public to comment on the
two proposed sites on either side of the Potomac River, not too far from Arlington National Cemetery.
The association hopes to have a site selected in the coming months. Fundraising efforts are already underway. The monument would be on government land, but its construction — estimated at $25 million — would be privately funded.
“It’s time to get the word out and get it done,” Kurczek said in an interview.
The Gulf War was sparked by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. The U.S. and its allies demanded that Iraq withdraw. War began in January 1991 and ended with the defeat of Iraq on Feb. 28, 1991.
Nearly 700,000 American servicemen and women were deployed for Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Of those, 383 died in the theater. According to the website for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, more than 3,400 Arkansans took part in the war. Four Arkansans died.
Seven years ago, Byrd and other veterans were preparing to gather for ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the conflict, and they talked about the need to honor their fallen comrades.
“We were just amazed back in 2010 that they hadn’t started a memorial for the Desert Storm veterans who lost their lives,” Byrd said.
After doing some research, they decided to begin a campaign themselves.
“We just said, ‘Hey, let’s see what we can do,’” Byrd recalled. “You know, we’re pretty determined. Once we decided to do it, we just haven’t stopped.”
They chipped in their own money to get their group incorporated in 2011. The papers were filed in Arkansas because that’s where Byrd lives.
The new group’s president, Scott Stump of Waynesville, N.C., used his frequent-flier miles to travel to Washington.
When the organization needed an Arkansas accountant to work for free, Kurczek volunteered.
The veterans learned quickly that the process would be slow and cumbersome.
“They told us at the very beginning, it would take a minimum of … 8 to 10 years to get that done — and that’s a fast track,” Byrd said.
“There’s a 24-step process in order to get a memorial built in Washington. … We are at, I believe, around 11 or 12,” Byrd said. “[Getting] the legislation passed and the president to sign it into law, that’s taken the most time. But now things are starting to move.”
Kurczek said it hasn’t always been easy.
“It is a lot of work and at times it’s challenging. You’ve got to keep in mind, we’re a group of volunteers,” he said.
None of the leaders had ever run a nonprofit charitable group, he said.
“It’s a learning curve for everybody, but the teamwork’s exceptional and that’s one of the good things about it,” he said. “It seems like every time there’s an obstacle, we pull through and overcome that obstacle.”
A design for the memorial has been drawn up by Indianapolis-based CSO Architects. It includes a 150-foot bas-relief wall and includes the names of the fallen.
Kurczek said he likes the proposal.
“It’s simple, it’s clean, it’s appropriate and I also believe it’s educational,” he said, noting that it would include a chronology of the war.
Now, the organization needs to raise the money for construction.
The veterans credit Boozman with playing a crucial role, noting that he sponsored the key legislation.
The Republican from Rogers said the memorial is “so important.”
“It allows individuals that served during that time to come up and see that they’re remembered for their service … and for their families to see that they’re recognized,” Boozman said. “We need to remember the past. We need to remember the sacrifice. This is just a very small effort.”
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, who co-sponsored SJR1, said Desert Storm was a defining moment for hundreds of thousands of Americans.
“For every man and woman who fought in that war, that’s the biggest war in their life,” the Republican from Dardanelle said. “For the man or woman who was in that fight, it’s their Normandy and it’s their Gettysburg and I think they deserve to be honored with an appropriate memorial.”
Information on the National Desert Storm War Memorial is available at ndswm.org.
This artist’s rendering is of a proposed memorial in Washington, D.C., for Desert Storm, the military conflict fought in Iraq in early 1991. The design is by CSO Architects of Indianapolis. It includes a 150-foot bas-relief wall and the names of the 383 Americans who died.