Fifty-nine years after the end of the most horrific conflict ever known, American veterans of World War II will have a memorial dedicated on May 29, 2004.

According to the American Battle Monuments Commission, the dedication ceremony will take place during Memorial Day weekend activities surrounding the memorial’s location on the National Mall. Plans for events to be held in conjunction with the dedication are still being formulated, but they may include a World War II exhibition coordinated with the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, as well as a service at the Washington National Cathedral.

A 7.4-acre reservation, the National World War II Memorial stands between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial at the east end of the Reflecting Pool. A sunken plaza with a pool is surrounded by 56 pillars, each 17 feet tall, and two four-story arches. The site was dedicated by President Bill Clinton on Memorial Day 1995.

The memorial’s design was conceived by a team headed by Rhode Island-based architect Friedrich St. Florian. In the summer of 1998, the design concept was approved by the National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission of Fine Arts. Over the next four years, specific elements of the design, such as the type of granite to be used, were approved.

Former Marine Corps General P.X. Kelley, who now heads the American Battle Monuments Commission, commented, “Veterans are planning reunions in conjunction with the dedication. With construction on schedule for completion in spring 2004, we want to give veterans and their families plenty of time to make travel plans. Unfortunately, fewer than 4 million of the 16 million Americans who served in uniform during the war are expected to be alive when the memorial is dedicated. We lose 1,100 World War II vets each day, so the dedication cannot come too soon.”

Indeed, the effort to build the memorial has been “monumental.” Although construction began in August 2001, the initial authorization for the project was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1993. The dedication will culminate an 11-year journey from idea to reality.

Some groups opposed the construction of the memorial in its approved location, saying, among other things, that it detracted from the scenic vistas that are so much a part of the beauty of the National Mall. Then, there was the issue of funding. To date, nearly $189 million in primarily private funds have been received to foot the bill. The Federal government has contributed $16 million.

The fundraising campaign has been capably led by former Kansas senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole, and Frederick W. Smith, chairman and chief executive officer of FedEx Corporation. Dole served during World War II as a member of the elite 10th Mountain Division and was seriously wounded in action. He received two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart for his service. Smith is a former U.S. Marine Corps officer and leads the well-known global delivery and logistics corporation which has more than $17 billion in assets.

Actor Tom Hanks is one of many other prominent individuals who have supported the memorial movement. Hanks himself appeared in television advertisements urging public donations for its construction.

“Tom Hanks, The Advertising Council, and The History Channel generated an awareness that extended beyond the memorial into the classrooms of the nation, where students showed renewed interest in World War II and the personal experiences of those who participated in the war effort,” noted Senator Dole. “This memorial will be a permanent reminder of the service of millions of young men and women—not only those in uniform, but that generation—for the great sacrifice they made.”

More than 400,000 Americans died in World War II, and millions contributed to the war effort in factories and shipyards, farms and fields across America. Although the memorial may be coming in the twilight of the lives of those who experienced the hardships and the triumphs of the war years, its purpose and importance are not diminished. n

For more information on the National World War II Memorial and the upcoming dedication, visit the Web site at or call toll-free 800-639-4WW2.

Back to the issue this appears in