Finally, after a 59-year wait, the National World War II Memorial was formally dedicated in Washington, D.C. on May 29, 2004. Symbolic of the 20th century’s defining event, it is positioned on the Mall’s central axis in a strategic, and scenic, location between the Washington Monument (a symbol of the country’s 18th-century founding) and the Lincoln Memorial (a symbol of the 19th-century preservation of the union). The Capitol dome is seen to the east, and Arlington Cemetery is just across the Potomac River to the west.
The Announcement Stone proclaims that the memorial honors those “Americans who took up the struggle during the Second World War and made the sacrifices to perpetuate the gift our forefathers entrusted to us: A nation conceived in liberty and justice.”
The granite lower plaza of the memorial surrounds the Rainbow Pool (named for the rainbow seen when sunlight hits the spray at a certain angle). Pillars representing U.S. states and territories circle the plaza, and waterfalls and fountains provide a refreshing lift to visitors’ spirits. The Freedom Wall holds 4,000 gold stars honoring those who died, with each star representing 100 servicemen and women. More than 400,000 of the 16 million who served in the armed forces in that war died. Fewer than 4 million of those veterans are still alive, but they came out in big numbers to welcome the memorial.
Though the federal government donated $16 million to the memorial fund, it took more than $164 million in private donations to get it built. Tom Hanks’ message that “It’s Time to Say Thank You” was a BIG help.
Even if you missed the summer dedication and attendant festivities, it is not too late for an inspiring visit. Many children continue to bring their aged veteran parents. Fall temperatures make it easier on the elderly, too.
A few hints that will make a visit more enjoyable if you’re traveling with a vet:
Encourage him/her to proudly wear their medals and their “World War II Vet” caps. It will make them happy, and others who are visiting will probably want to shake their hand.
Plan to hang out at the memorial for several hours.
If the vet is disabled, consider renting a wheelchair or an electric scooter.
Or take a cab. Parking is difficult in the area, and the Metro stop is not close.
Bring a camera with lots of film or disc space. If you’re not traveling with a vet, offer to take photos for those who are.
Take time also to visit the Vietnam and Korea memorials.