They fought on foreign shores, flew through enemy skies and risked their lives to liberate the world. Now the veterans of World War II are awaiting their own tribute in the shadow of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The National World War II Memorial is nearing completion and should be ready for its dedication in May 2004 on the National Mall.
The memorial is clearly visible from vantage points around the Mall. The 56 pillars, which represent the states and territories of the United States during World War II, and the north and south arches, which represent the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, are almost completed.
There is a sense of urgency in completing the project. Mike Conley, the spokesman for the World War II Memorial, says that of the 16 million Americans who went off to fight World War II, only approximately 3.8 million are expected to be alive for the dedication, according to the Veterans Administration. While only a few tours of the work site have been allowed, people can watch the progress through Plexiglas windows around the construction site. Veterans are the most common visitors, many worried that they will not make it to the dedication. "It's a heartwarming thing to see and to hear their reactions," said Conley.
The designers' two greatest concerns are keeping a macro view of the war and creating a memorial that highlights rather than detracts from the flow of the Mall. Instead of using unit insignias to represent the forces that fought, the names of states are used, each represented in the order that the state entered the Union. Each state pillar is connected to the other by a bronze rope at its base. The rope represents the unity of the nation.
"We wanted to show that everyone was involved in a just and common cause," said Barry Owenby, the project executive for the memorial. Below the pillars will be the names of the different regions or theaters where the war was fought. Beneath those will be the names of battles that resonate with veterans, such as Guadalcanal and Normandy. The only service specific representation will be found at the base of two 70-foot flag poles. There will be six bronze service seals representing the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Army Air Forces, Coast Guard and the Merchant Marine.
The designers were sensitive to concerns that the memorial would be an eyesore on the Mall. The granite pillars and the memorial arches, the tallest structures of the memorial, were built considerably lower than the oak trees that flank them. Of the 7.4 acres taken up by the memorial, two-thirds will be made up of a pool and landscaping. The final design will feature hollowed pillars and carved out spaces around the bronze ropes, which will open up the memorial to the surrounding buildings and monuments. "We were really going for maximum transparency," said Owenby.
More than 100 people work on the memorial daily. Once completed, it will also boast a rainbow pool in the same spot where one had previously been. A panel of 4,000 stars, each representing approximately 100 deaths in the war, will form the Freedom Wall. The designers did not get into the controversy over the exact numbers of deaths, since there is no way to know how many there were. Two bronze wreaths will hang from each state pillar, one of oak leaves, representing the arsenal of democracy, and one of wheat sheaves, representing the bread basket that fed the troops. Quotations from military commanders as well as Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S Truman will be etched into the granite at various points around the memorial. Twenty-four reliefs will depict scenes from both the homefront and the battlefield. A stone at the head of the ceremonial entrance will explain the memorial's purpose: to pay tribute to those who sacrificed in the name of liberty and justice.
The dedication is set for Saturday, May 29, of next year. The ceremony will acknowledge …