A Monumental Task: Honoring the Heroes of Desert Storm

(National Desert Storm Memorial Association)

On Wednesday, the U.S. House unanimously passed a bill that would create a national monument honoring around half a million Americans who served in operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield.

Despite code names dramatic enough to inspire a video game, the first Gulf War is a relatively obscure conflict. Most people - if they think of it at all - remember Desert Storm as a brief, 100-hour struggle.

But from 1990 to 1991, the war claimed the lives of almost 400 Americans. Nearly 150 soldiers were killed in action fighting to protect Kuwait from an Iraqi invasion led by then-president Saddam Hussein (and another 235 died from accidents or friendly fire).

Now, Gulf War veterans are concerned that the conflict has been overshadowed by the more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"People forget what a big deal it was," Desert Storm veteran Lance Cpl. Scott Stump told ABC News. "[Kuwait] was tormented, pillaged … We liberated the country, and that's a big deal."

Stump, who's now leading the charge for a national memorial, said that the idea struck him when he visited the George H.W. Bush library on the 20th anniversary of the invasion in 2011.

"It dawned on me that there is no national remembrance," he said, noting that a memorial would give veterans and their families "closure."

So Stump called Congressman Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, a member of the House's Veteran Affairs committee, who eventually introduced H.R. 503, the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial Act.

Passed by the House today, the bill authorizes Congress to set aside federal land in DC for the memorial. According to the National Desert Storm Memorial Association website, proposed locations include the National Mall (site of the WWII, Vietnam, and Korean War Memorials) and a field near Arlington National Cemetery.

The bill does not allocate any federal funds towards the monument's construction. In fact, it expressly prohibits the use of federal funds. (A similar bill under consideration in the Senate does too.)

Like many other war memorials, the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial will be funded by private donations. According to Stump, the structure will probably cost around $15 million, but that's only an estimate, as costs vary depending on the site.

Though the memorial hasn't yet been approved, designs are already underway.

Built primarily of khaki-colored limestone, the memorial would curve north and east, recalling both the sand dunes of the Kuwaiti desert and the "left hook" maneuver that cut off Iraqi retreat from Kuwait.

Nestled in the tightest part of the curve, a bronze statue of five U.S. soldiers in gas masks would stand at shoulder height - an effort to make the space more intimate, designers said.

The names of the 382 American casualties would be etched on the walls, and carvings depicting the events leading up to the conflict would line the pathway.

"Who could be against something that commemorates not just our veterans but our country in general - especially when there's no [taxpayer] money involved?" Stump asks.