The World War II Memorial finally opened in 2004 – 60 years after the end of World War II. By contrast, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated 7 years after that war concluded and the Korean War Memorial was dedicated in 1995 – 42 years after hostilities in Korea ended.
World War II veterans were humble about their victory over the Axis powers but wondered what was taking so long. By the 1970’s many of the young men who fought in this war were becoming grandfathers. Why was there nothing in Washington DC to commemorate their winning a global conflict fought on two fronts – the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of war?
The problem was the ambitious site that had been selected for the memorial. There is a 2 mile strip of hallowed ground in Washington, DC, called “the alignment” that runs right through the center of the National Mall from the Lincoln Memorial all the way to US Capitol. The existing memorials, The Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the US Capitol (the Monument to Democracy) are positioned precisely along that line – basically a visual path that creates a breathtaking vista. The alignment of these monuments had existed for half a century – and no one had dared to suggest adding any other structure to this alignment.
But the planners of the World War II Memorial believed they had a design that would not in any way disturb the vista. They felt the men and women who won World War II and preserved democracy deserved a location like this one. Their memorial would sit in a low area below the normal alignment sight line and most importantly it would be built on a site where a small civic fountain had existed for years – directly on the alignment.
The problems with the site selection were never clearly communicated to the World War II Veterans. Eventually it took Senator Robert Dole and President George W. Bush to clear a path through many lawsuits, Federal regulations and practices so that the World War II Memorial could be built where it was intended in the middle of the National Mall directly between the Lincoln Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument.
The center point of the World War II Memorial is a glorious oval fountain, the only evidence of the small civic fountain formerly at the site. The fountain contains small dancing geysers around its perimeter as well as a large central geyser. The fountain is festive with pulsing water and commemorates the lives of the soldiers who returned from war and energetically re-embraced life. Typically the fountain operates from mid-March to early December.
Around the fountain are 56 granite pillars, 17-feet-tall, representing each state and US territory in the Union at the end of the war in June 1945. On each pillar there are two bronze wreaths – one on the front of each column and one on the opposing side. The wreaths symbolize the thanks of a grateful nation to each state and territory for their contribution of men and material to fight the war.
At the ends of the oval fountain are two Victory Arches – one dedicated to the War in the Atlantic and the other to the War in the Pacific. There are waterfalls at the base of each arch calling out the most important battles in each theater of the war. At midpoint in the Memorial – to the west side is a still water reflecting pool with a wall beside it containing 4000+ gold stars. Each star represents the lives of 100 US Service Men – those who never came home. It is the called Wall of Remembrance.