BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County is applying for the opportunity to be named an American World War II Heritage City. Los Alamos County Councilors voted unanimously in favor of submitting the application following a presentation August 24 by Acting Deputy County Manager Linda Matteson.
Pursuant to a conservation management and recreation legislation that was signed into law in March 2019, the Secretary of the Interior can annually bestow the honorary designation on at least one city or local jurisdiction annually in each state or territory. The designation recognizes and ensures the continued preservation of the history of the United States involvement in World War II. The program is administered by the National Park Service.
Matteson noted that she has had the opportunity to talk to staff from Wilmington, North Carolina which was designated the first American city under the program in 2020. She said it was very interesting to find out more of the details.
“There is no funding that comes with the designation. There are no strings attached. There are no unintended responsibilities or obligations that the County would have if we did receive this designation,” she said.
Wilmington is using the logo of the designation on some of their marketing information and there is a sign that can be posted at the entrance to the community noting the designation. Matteson noted that if Council supported the application, County staff would work with the congressional delegation to get their support and the requisite letter and create an application by the Aug. 31 deadline.
(Information on Wilmington’s designation may be viewed here: https://www.nps.gov/places/wilmington-north-carolina-american-world-war-ii-heritage-city.htm
Councilor Sean Williams asked Matteson in her opinion, among the many places in New Mexico that could be chosen including Sandia and White Sands, why she thinks Los Alamos should be New Mexico’s American World War II Heritage City.
“Do we have a lot of time?” Matteson responded with a chuckle. “I have lots of reasons. I think out pivotal role that we played in the Manhattan Project is evidence enough. The other criteria is not only the wartime effort, but it really is also the preservation of that legacy, that real passion and desire to educate the next generation and to preserve facilities and build museums to keep the wartime effort of World War II in the forefront of people’s minds.”
She listed the history museum, the acquisition of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) Building, “a real desire to do all that. Another thing we’ll mention in the application is (Los Alamos National Laboratory’s) role and their preservation efforts for all those Manhattan Project properties. They spend a great amount of money preserving and providing restoration for those properties. All that combined, really makes us unique and gives us an excellent chance at this.
Matteson said the County has been in contact with Sen. Ben Ray Lujan’s staff and to their knowledge they don’t believe any other city in New Mexico is vying for the designation.
Congress established two basic criteria: contributions by a city and its environs to the World War II home-front war effort and achievements to preserve the heritage and legacy of the city’s contributions to the war effort and to preserve World War II history.
The nomination for the designation has to include a cover letter from the County to the National Park Service director, a narrative description that addresses the criteria established by Congress for the designation, letters of support endorsed by the majority of the congressional delegation and other materials that support the application.