Rob Wittman lives in Westmoreland County and has represented Virginia’s First Congressional District since 2007. Occasionally called “America’s first district,” his constituency stretches geographically from the shores of Chesapeake Bay to the north and inland to Prince William County — and, historically from the Jamestown settlement to the battlefields of Manassas. He serves on the House Armed Services Committee, where he is chairman of the Readiness Subcommittee. Wittman is also a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and is a strong supporter of historic battlefield preservation programs.
Q. Virginia’s First Congressional District contains a huge number of historic sites — battlefields, period homes, museums of all stripes — that draw visitors from near and far. What kind of impact does heritage tourism have on your constituents?
As natives of America’s First District, the folks I represent understand that preserving our many historic sites helps us both remember our past and work toward our future. The battlefields and monuments scattered across our district help us honor the men and women who fought and died for liberty and unity while giving us the opportunity to share that experience with others as we strengthen our tourism economy. According to a recent five-state study that included Virginia, for instance, 15.8 million visitors to Civil War sites last year spent nearly $442 million in local communities, and supported 5,150 jobs. That impact on our economic and jobs growth can’t be overlooked.
Q. Do you have any “can’t miss” destinations from our nation’s past that you like to recommend to these visitors?
From Washington’s boyhood home at Ferry Farm to the Jamestown settlement and historic Williamsburg, we’re lucky to be surrounded by reminders of our nation’s struggle for independence. With so many places that served significant roles during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, I would be hard-pressed to make my recommendation too narrow. We are a history-lover’s paradise, and we’re proud to have played such a huge part in our national evolution.
Q. Given your tremendous record of supporting today’s military men and women as well as their families, do you think that protecting the places where the soldiers of past centuries fought and bled sends a positive message to those who continue to answer the call to service?
I think that protecting our battlefields sends a message that we value the sacrifice of the men and women who have been willing to risk it all for the liberties that we enjoy today. We’re telling our troops that they are an important part of a legacy of freedom that spans across our now 239 years of independence, and we’re not going to forget the sacrifices that they and their families are making every day. Our servicemen and women are heroes, and they will be remembered as heroes for years to come.
Q. Why do you think that your legislation to reauthorize the hugely successful Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program — and expand matching grant eligibility to include significant battlefields from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 — generated such broad and bipartisan support?
As Americans, I think we all understand the importance of remembering the past and ensuring that the sacrifices our ancestors made aren’t forgotten. The Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program has been responsible for preserving more than 24,000 acres of at-risk Civil War battlefield land in 16 states, including 11,500 acres in Virginia — more than any other state. Members from both parties understand that protecting historic sites from our nation’s past not only reminds us of what Lincoln called “a new birth of freedom” but also contribute economically to historic communities and local businesses.
Q. After four years, the Civil War sesquicentennial period has concluded, leaving a legacy of land preservation, scholarship and public awareness. Ten years from now, we’ll be marking the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution. Do you have any hopes for what may come out of that commemoration?
It’s so important, as we move into the future, that we remember all of the sacrifice that has been made on behalf of this experiment in liberty we call the United States. So many men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the revolutionary idea of self-governance. I am hopeful that as we commemorate the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution, we continue to honor the memory of those who dedicated themselves to the proposition that “all men are created equal.”
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