An Ohio delegation is co-sponsoring a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would make a veterans memorial under construction in Columbus a national museum.
The National Veterans Memorial and Museum -- scheduled to open next summer -- initially was planned to replace Franklin County's previous Veterans Memorial across from COSI.
However, it's blossomed into something far more sweeping and ambitious, said U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Upper Arlington), as he, Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Jefferson Township) and Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Genoa Township) are pushing a bill to designate the Columbus memorial as an official national museum.
Speaking before a House panel Sept. 13, Stivers and Beatty argued in favor of HR 1900 -- the National Veterans Memorial and Museum Act -- saying that a memorial to the nation's veterans is long overdue and Columbus would be too happy to change that.
The state, they said, has the sixth-largest population of veterans in the U.S. Furthermore, they said, Ohio is within an eight-hour car ride of almost half the nation's veterans.
The memorial under construction on West Broad Street, Stivers said, "will serve as a civic landmark to honor, inspire and educate all Americans about the service and sacrifice of more than 22 million veterans in this country."
It would not be the state's only museum honoring the armed services or those who have served in the military. Roughly an hour's drive away, Dayton is home to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
During the hearing, Matthew Sullivan, deputy undersecretary for finance and planning and CFO for the National Cemetery Administration for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the department neither supports nor opposes a national museum in Columbus.
"VA respectfully expresses no view on the proposed bill, which does not apply to VA or to VA's core mission," he testified.
A national designation for the Columbus site does have the support of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Alex Zhang, assistant director of national veterans affairs and rehabilitation for the American Legion, said his organization backs the bill.
Zhang said the Columbus facility would "represent American veterans with profound respect, connecting them with the civilian population, possibly inspiring others to serve and, most importantly, educating youth about what these fine men and women have done for America."
The American Legion, he said, "wholeheartedly supports" the "beautiful, thoughtful" memorial's designation, he said.
"Our country currently lacks a museum specifically dedicated to honoring and preserving the collective sacrifices made by this nation's veterans," John Towles, deputy director of national legislative service for the VFW, told the House Veterans Affairs Committee's subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. "This museum would serve to fill that gap."
Construction of the 50,000-square-foot museum and memorial next to the Scioto River in downtown Columbus began in 2015. More than $75 million was raised for design and construction.
Stivers said he hopes to tuck HR 1900 into a larger legislative package in the months ahead. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) are working on a similar measure in the Senate.
Beatty said the Columbus museum was, in part, the brainchild of former Ohio Sen. John Glenn, who died last year.
"If he were here today, he would highlight this museum and memorial," she said. "He would talk about the 300-foot reflecting pool. He would talk about the memorial wall. He would talk about the sanctuary where veterans' families and others could go.
"It's a tremendous idea," she told the panel. "And we ask for your support."