Military Wiki
World War II Memorial
Map showing the location of World War II Memorial
Location Washington, D.C.
Coordinates 38°53′21.84″N 77°2′25.86″W / 38.8894°N 77.0405167°W / 38.8894; -77.0405167Coordinates: 38°53′21.84″N 77°2′25.86″W / 38.8894°N 77.0405167°W / 38.8894; -77.0405167
Established May 29, 2002
Visitors 4,410,379 (in 2005)
Governing body National Park Service

The U.S. National World War II Memorial is a national memorial dedicated to Americans who served in the armed forces and as civilians during World War II. Consisting of 56 pillars and a pair of small triumphal arches surrounding a plaza and fountain, it is located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on the former site of the Rainbow Pool at the eastern end of the Reflecting Pool, between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

It opened to the public on April 29, 2004, and was dedicated by President George W. Bush on May 29, 2004, two days before Memorial Day.[1] The memorial is administered by the National Park Service under its National Mall and Memorial Parks group.[2] As of 2009, more than 4.4 million people visit the memorial each year.[citation needed]


In 1987, World War II veteran Roger Durbin approached Representative Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat from Ohio, to ask if a World War II memorial could be constructed. Kaptur introduced the World War II Memorial Act to the House of Representatives as HR 3742 on December 10. The resolution authorized the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) to establish a World War II memorial in "Washington, D.C., or its environs", but the bill was not voted on before the end of the session, so it was not passed. Two more times, in 1989 and 1991, Rep. Kaptur introduced similar legislation, but these bills suffered the same fate as the first, and did not become law.

Kaptur reintroduced legislation in the House a fourth time as HR 682 on January 27, 1993, one day after Senator Strom Thurmond (a Republican from South Carolina) introduced companion Senate legislation. On March 17, 1993, the Senate approved the act, and the House approved an amended version of the bill on May 4. On May 12, the Senate also approved the amended bill, and the World War II Memorial Act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on May 25 of that year, becoming Public Law 103-32.


On September 30, 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed a 12-member Memorial Advisory Board (MAB) to advise the ABMC in picking the site, designing the memorial, and raising money to build it. A direct mail fundraising effort brought in millions of dollars from individual Americans. Additional large donations were made by veterans' groups, including the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge and others. The majority of the corporate fundraising effort was led by two co-chairs: Senator Bob Dole, a decorated World War II veteran and 1996 Republican nominee for president; and Frederick W. Smith, the president and chief executive officer of FedEx Corporation and a former U.S. Marine Corps officer. The U.S. federal government provided about $16 million. A total of $197 million was raised.

Picking the site[]

View of The National World War II Memorial (bottom) and the Lincoln Memorial (top) from the Washington Monument

In October 1994, Clinton signed Joint Resolution 227 into law, mandating that the monument be located in downtown Washington, near other memorials. On January 20, 1995, Colonel Kevin C. Kelley, project manager for the ABMC, organized the first meeting of the ABMC and the MAB, at which the project was discussed and initial plans made. The meeting was chaired by Commissioner F. Haydn Williams, chairman of ABMC's World War II Memorial Site and Design Committee, who would go on to guide the project through the site selection and approval process and the selection and approval of the Memorial's design. Representatives from the United States Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission, the National Capital Memorial Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Park Service attended the meeting. Selection of an appropriate site was taken on as the first action.

Over the next months, several sites were considered. Three quickly gained favor:[3][4]

  • U.S. Capitol Reflection Pool area – between 3rd Street and the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial
  • Constitution Gardens – east end, between Constitution Avenue and the Rainbow Pool
  • Freedom Plaza – on Pennsylvania Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets

Other sites considered but quickly rejected were:

  • Tidal Basin – northeast side, east of the Tidal Basin parking lot and west of the 14th Street Bridge access road
  • West Potomac Park – between Ohio Drive and the north shore of the Potomac River, northwest of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
  • Grounds of the Washington Monument – at Constitution Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets, west of the National Museum of American History
  • Henderson Hall, adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery – dropped from consideration because of its unavailability

The selection of the Rainbow Pool site was announced on October 5, 1995. The design would incorporate the Rainbow Pool fountain, located across 17th Street from the Washington Monument and near the Constitution Gardens site.[5]


Aerial view of the National World War II Memorial

Panoramic view at night, Washington Monument in the background

A nationwide design competition drew 400 submissions from architects from around the country. Friedrich St. Florian's initial design was selected in 1997. Over the next four years, St. Florian's design was altered during the review and approval process required of proposed memorials in Washington, D.C. Ambassador Haydn Williams guided the design development for ABMC.

The final design consists of 56 granite pillars, each 17 feet (5 m) tall, arranged in a semicircle around a plaza with two 43-foot (13 m) triumphal arches, crafted by Rock of Ages Corporation, on opposite sides. Two-thirds of the 7.4-acre (30,000 m2) site is landscaping and water. Each pillar is inscribed with the name of one of the 48 U.S. states of 1945, as well as the District of Columbia, the Alaska Territory and Territory of Hawaii, the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The northern arch is inscribed with "Atlantic"; the southern one, "Pacific." The plaza is 337 ft, 10 in (103.0 m) long and 240 feet, 2 inches (73.2 m) wide, is sunk 6 feet (1.8 m) below grade, and contains a pool that is 246 feet 9 inches by 147 feet 8 inches (75.2 × 45.0 m).[6]

The memorial includes two[7] inconspicuously located "Kilroy was here" engravings. Their inclusion in the memorial acknowledges the significance of the symbol to American soldiers during World War II and how it represented their presence and protection wherever it was inscribed.[8]

On approaching the semicircle from the east, a visitor walks along one of two walls (right side wall and left side wall) picturing scenes of the war experience in bas relief. As one approaches on the left (toward the Pacific arch), the scenes begin with soon-to-be servicemen getting physical exams, taking the oath, and being issued military gear. The reliefs progress through several iconic scenes, including combat and burying the dead, ending in a homecoming scene. On the right-side wall (toward the Atlantic arch) there is a similar progression, but with scenes generally more typical of the European theatre. Some scenes take place in England, depicting the preparations for air and sea assaults. The last scene is of a handshake between the American and Russian armies when the western and eastern fronts met in Germany.

Freedom Wall[]

The Freedom Wall is on the west side of the memorial, with a view of the Reflecting Pool and Lincoln Memorial behind it. The wall has 4,048 gold stars, each representing 100 Americans who died in the war. In front of the wall lies the message "Here we mark the price of freedom".[9]


The memorial under construction (August 2002)

Ground was broken in September 2001. The construction was managed by the General Services Administration.

Sculptor Raymond Kaskey created the bronze eagles and wreaths that were installed under the arches, as well as 24 bronze bas-relief panels that depict wartime scenes of combat and the home front.[10] The bronzes were cast over the course of two and a half years at Laran Bronze in Chester, Pennsylvania.[11] The stainless-steel armature that holds up the eagles and wreaths was designed at Laran, in part by sculptor James Peniston,[12] and fabricated by Apex Piping of Newport, Delaware.[11] The John Stevens Shop designed a typeface for the memorial and most of the inscriptions were hand-carved in situ.

The memorial opened to the public on April 29, 2004, and was dedicated in a May 29 ceremony attended by thousands of people. The memorial became a national park on November 1, when authority over it was transferred to the National Park Service.

In 2012, the memorial's fountain was renovated.[13]


Criticism of the location[]

Critics such as the National Coalition to Save Our Mall opposed the location of the memorial. A major criticism of the location was that it would interrupt what had been an unbroken view between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The memorial was also criticized for taking up open space that had been historically used for major demonstrations and protests.[14][15][16]

Critics were particularly bothered by the expedited approval process, which is normally lengthy.[17] The United States Congress, worried that World War II veterans were dying before an appropriate memorial could be built, passed legislation exempting the National World War II Memorial from further site and design review. Congress also dismissed pending legal challenges to the memorial.[18]

Criticism of the design and style[]

World War II Memorial

There were also aesthetic objections to the design. A critic from the Boston Herald described the monument as "vainglorious, demanding of attention and full of trite imagery."[19] The Philadelphia Inquirer argued that "this pompous style was also favored by Hitler and Mussolini"[20] (see Nazi architecture).

Supporters, meanwhile, argued that the design was evocative of federal architecture during the New Deal period, being influenced by an austere interpretation of Art Deco/Beaux Arts styles.[citation needed] This view, and the monument, were dismissed by one prominent architecture critic as "knee-jerk historicism"[21]



  1. National World War II Memorial
  2. World War II Memorial (U.S. National Park Service)
  3. Forgey, Benjamin (1995-07-01). "Site-seeking at the Mall: Placing World War II memorial in the grand scheme of things". The Washington Post. p. C1. 
  4. Forgey, Benjamin (1995-07-28). "No Accord on WWII Memorial; Two Agencies Send Mixed Signals About Location". The Washington Post. p. B3. 
  5. Forgey, Benjamin (1995-10-06). "WWII Memorial Gets Choice Mall Site; 2nd Panel Approves Location, Clearing Way for Design Phase". The Washington Post. p. B1. 
  6. "Memorial Design". National WWII Memorial. Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  8. "Kilroy Is Here--Can You Find Him?". The Washington Post. 
  9. Knight, Christopher (2004-05-23). "A memorial to forget". Los Angeles Times.  — Many sources give the number of stars as 4,000. The wall contains 23 panels of 11 columns and 16 rows of stars. The number of stars can also be counted in File:Wwii memorial stars march 2006.jpg. See also discussion at Talk:National World War II Memorial#Number the Stars.
  10. WWII Memorial: The “High Point” of Raymond Kaskey’s Career - Carnegie Mellon Today
  11. 11.0 11.1 "WWII MEMORIAL". Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  12. "James Peniston Sculpture: Bio". Retrieved 2008-09-09. 
  13. "World War II Memorial Site Renovations". Long Fence. Retrieved April 23, 2013. 
  14. "Bush Backs War Memorial". 17 May 2001. Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  15. Fisher, Marc (4 May 2004). "A Memorial That Doesn't Measure Up". Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  16. "The World War II Memorial Defaces a National Treasure". National Coalition to Save Our Mall. January 2001. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  17. Van Oss, Alex (2001-02-25). "World War II Memorial" (RealAudio). Weekend Edition Sunday. National Public Radio. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  18. Killian, Michael (2001-05-22). "Senate OKs WWII Memorial". Chicago Tribune. 
  19. Keane, Thomas M., Jr. (June 25, 2004). "WWII Memorial fails both past, present". Boston Herald. p. 27. 
  20. Saffron, Inga (May 28, 2004). "Monument to Democracy, The National World War II Memorial deserves its prominent location in Washington, as a tribute to heroes and a great cause". The Philadelphia Inquirer. p. E01. 
  21. Ouroussoff, Nicolai, “Get Me Rewrite: A New Monument to Press Freedom”, The New York Times, April 11, 2008.

External links[]

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