Two D.C. sites posed for Gulf War wall

Two state vets ad­vance mon­u­ment

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - FRANK E. LOCK­WOOD

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.

Spe­cial to the Demo­crat-Gazette

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.

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