A new foundation has set its sights on Kansas as the future home of a memorial to all U.S. service members who have died in the series of conflicts that began with the first Gulf War.
“Most of the great war memorials are in Washington, D.C.,” said Tonya Evans, founder and CEO of the American Fallen Warrior Memorial Foundation, based in Lawrence. “We chose Kansas for this memorial mainly because it’s in the middle of the country, which will make it more accessible to the rest of the country.”
Founded earlier this year, the group has approached four communities — Manhattan, Topeka, Lawrence and Kansas City, Kan. — to gauge interest in having the memorial built on their land.
Evans’ vision is a 20-acre spread with a 130-foot archway consisting of an American flag strung between two pillars as the entrance. Ringing a central plaza would be individual plaques honoring each service member killed as a result of operations from Desert Storm through the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two buildings would serve as museums and education centers.
“It’s been nearly two decades since the Gulf War and nothing has been done for those veterans,” Evans told The Manhattan Mercury. “This memorial is long overdue.”
Evans said all four cities have expressed interest in having the memorial, but said Manhattan would be a “great fit” because of city’s relationship with nearby Fort Riley. Topeka would also be fitting, she said, because it’s the state capital.
Lyle Butler, president of the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce, said the memorial would be a great addition to the city, but noted possible issues meeting the foundation’s requirements.
“They want the memorial next to I-70, and we only have a few acres of land there with no infrastructure,” he said.
“It’s an interesting project in its very preliminary stages, but anytime we can get something like this that will bring people to the region, it deserves a serious look.”
Evans, a Kansas native, said she wants the memorial built in her home state partly to counter some stereotypes and images. “Throughout the country we are known for Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, but also for the Westboro Baptist Church,” she said, referring to the Topeka church whose members picket military funerals claiming soldiers’ deaths are divine punishment on the nation for tolerating homosexuality.
“Westboro is such a small group but they get a lot of attention, and by bringing this memorial back to Kansas we can show the country that we do love and support our troops,“ she said. “And with our state’s strong military connection, getting this memorial here felt like the right thing to do at the right time.”