The National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. recognizes and honors the 16 million Americans who served in the Second World War, those who supported their efforts from home, and the 400,000 who lost their lives in what was the deadliest military conflict in history. The memorial is located at the east end of the Reflecting Pool on National Mall, between the Washington and Lincoln Memorials, and is the only 20th-century event to be remembered on the Memorial Park’s central axis.
On a 7.4-acre site at the east end of the Reflecting Pool, 56 stone pillars encircle a fountain, each representing the US states and territories at the time of World War II. The pillars are meant to evoke a classical monument, and are each decorated with bronze oak and wheat laurel wreathes, meant to represent the strength of the military at the time of the war. At each end of the semi-circular formation are two large stone pavilions. The pavilion to the north is labeled “Atlantic” while the pavilion to the south is labeled “Pacific.” These pavilions are each decorated with a suspended oak laurel wreath carried by four eagles. These suspended bronze sculptures represent the strength of the US military, carried by the nation’s bird. As visitors approach the memorial from the east, they walk past two large walls with bronze bas-relief sculptures representing scenes from the war. The Pacific bas-reliefs chronicle the American involvement in the war from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the journey of an enlisted soldier; lining up to receive their gear and physical exams, combat, burying the dead, and coming home. The final panel represents Victory Day, when the war was officially ended. The Atlantic wall represents the support of the war efforts from the home front, the participation of women in the war, and scenes of the war in Europe. The Atlantic reliefs culminate in a handshake between the Russian and American armies following the Battle of the Bulge. The Freedom Wall to the west side of the memorial is decorated with 4,048 bronze stars, representing those who lost their lives in World War II. In front of the wall is a plaque that reads, “Here we mark the price of freedom.”
History: The idea for the memorial was proposed by a World War II veteran, Roger Durbin, in 1987. After several attempts, the memorial was approved by Congress in 1993. Fundraising for the memorial quickly began and a total of $197 million was raised, $16 million of which came from the US federal government. The site was selected in 1995. The World War II memorial was the first addition to that site since 1922. Over 400 submissions were received for the design of the memorial. In 1997, Austrian-American architect Friedrich St. Florian won the bid for the final design. The National World War II Memorial was dedicated by President George W Bush on Memorial Day on 2004. The four-day long ceremony was attended by thousands and included a reunion exhibition in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, and a service of Thanksgiving in partnership with the Washington National Cathedral. Today, over 5 million people visit the memorial annually.
Ongoing Programs and Education: The park is open 24 hours, although restrooms and elevators close in the evenings. Park rangers are on duty during the day to answer questions and assist visitors. Park rangers frequently host ranger talks at the site of the World War II Memorial. Upcoming talks include China-Burma-India: The Forgotten Theater which explores the role of “CBI” during the war and showcases its representation at the memorial. The Lamps are Going Out All Over Europe is a 1.5-mile walking tour that meets at the memorial and educates visitors on how Sir Edward Grey predicted the war. All ranger talks are free to the public, and the most recent schedule can be found on the National Parks website. For school groups, a teacher’s guide was developed in partnership with the History Channel, which accompanies the television program on the monument.
What’s Nearby: Visitors to the World War II Memorial would be interested in exploring the other memorials of the National Mall, particularly those that line the Reflecting Pool and the central corridor, including the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
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