By its nature this topic deals with the past, but this month’s story concerns a future event taking place at the end of May: the dedication of the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. A long time coming, the National Memorial honors the World War II generation: those who served in uniform and those who backed them up.
The celebration in the nation’s capital will begin on Thursday, May 27 and run through Sunday, May 30. The official dedication will take place on Saturday, May 29. Events will include a service at the Washington National Cathedral, a reunion on the National Mall, and military band performances.
A public law signed by President Clinton in 1993 authorized The American Battle Monuments Commission to create the first national memorial to “honor the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the U.S. during World War II, the more than 400,000 who died, and the millions who supported the war effort from home. Symbolic of the defining event of the 20th Century, the memorial will be a monument to the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of the American people to the common defense of the nation and to the broader causes of peace and freedom from tyranny throughout the world.”
Following donations of $193 million from American citizens and $16 million from the federal government, construction began in September 2001. The memorial is located on the National Mall east of the Reflecting Pool, between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Construction was completed in March 2004; the memorial is already open to the public.
Visitors walk toward the memorial with the Washington Monument to their back. The ceremonial walkway entrance is flanked by 24 bronze bas relief sculptures, a dozen on each side. From the entrance visitors see the bronze and granite memorial’s tallest features: two sets of four columns, one to the right and one to the left, each containing a bronze eagle. Arranged in a semicircle spreading out from the columns are 112 pillars each holding two bronze wreaths. Fifty-six bronze ropes connect the pillars. In the center, between the columns, is a plaza dominated by the Rainbow Pool. At the far end, opposite the entrance, is the Freedom Wall displaying 4,000 gold stars. Just beyond the Freedom Wall visitors can see the Mall’s Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial.
We must always remember that victory was never a certainty, particularly in the early days of World War II. Winston Churchill told the British people on the eve of the Battle of Britain that Hitler victorious meant “the whole world, including the United States…will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age….”
If you cannot attend the ceremonies in the nation’s capital, find out whether your community plans a related celebration this Memorial Day weekend. Many American Legion, VFW, and other veterans organizations are sponsoring dedication ceremonies in cities and towns across the country. Go to one. Shake a World War II veteran’s hand and thank him; give a kiss to that gray-haired lady who once wielded a rivet gun on a B-17 assembly line. They saved us from the Dark Ages Churchill predicted.