Proposed bills in Congress have languished for more than a decade

WILMINGTON -- It's a feel-good piece of proposed federal legislation. It isn't controversial. It has broad support in Congress.

And for more than a decade, a proposal to name one city per year as an American World War II city to recognize that city's contribution during World War II -- with Wilmington being the first -- has continued to languish and still isn't law.

"It predates me," said U.S. Rep. David Rouzer, R-N.C., who was elected in 2014 and is (again) sponsoring the legislation, which has passed the House before only to end up in limbo in the Senate. "Yes, it's frustrating from that standpoint. But that's the nature of what (Congress does) everyday."

Meanwhile, similar legislation offered by U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., has been held up by individual senators in the past despite what seemed to be clear paths -- in 2016, the state's senior senator, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said he was confident Tillis' bill would become law.

It didn't.

“Senator Tillis is working to achieve a designation for Wilmington as a World War II city, and he is working closely with Rep. Rouzer to draft modified legislation to address the feedback of some members of Congress," Tillis's spokesman, Daniel Keylin, said in an email this week.

Local historian Wilbur Jones Jr. has been trying to get the designation for 11 years. He said he believed the designation would happen this year, noting that local and state delegations have adopted or proposed resolutions calling on Congress to get the matter done this year.

"I am probably more confident now than I have been in the last 10 years," Jones said. "I have a feeling that the stars and the planets just might be aligning this session."

The hitch seems to be Wilmington's designation as first in line, Rouzer said. The Wilmington region was home to one of the largest shipbuilding operations on the East Coast during the war, hosted the huge Camp Davis post, was the site of foreign prisoner-of-war camps, featured an anti-aircraft training center at Fort Fisher and is the resting place of the Battleship North Carolina.

That said, other cities or areas could make a claim, Rouzer said. Pearl Harbor, just west of Honolulu, Hawaii, was the site of the Japanese attack that launched the U.S. into the war. The San Francisco Bay area was the site of the largest West Coast shipbuilding operations, launching more than 1,400 ships during the war -- the Wilmington shipbuilding operation produced 243 ships.

"Any senator at any time can put a hold on legislation," Rouzer said. "There are other cities around the country and their senators took note of what we were trying to do and they wanted part of the action."

Jones said Wilmington's place as the first city wouldn't stop other areas from receiving the designation in the future.

"We came up with this idea," Jones said. "The sad thing about what I would call petty opposition from other states is that they're holding up the bill and they're cutting off their nose to spite their face. If there is no legislation, then no city in the United States will have this designation."

Rouzer, though, said he believed the bill will become law this year. He said North Carolina's delegation may "rework" the bill to include other states that were similarly asking for the designation.

"I expect Wilmington will be a World War II city and will have the recognition it deserves," Rouzer said.

Reporter Tim Buckland can be reached at 910-343-2217 or Tim.Buckland@StarNewsOnline.com.