World War II Memorial

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One of Washington D.C.’s newest monuments, the National World War II Memorial honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces during the war and the 400,000 Americans who died in a war that worldwide claimed more than 70 million casualties.

World War II Memorial in Washington DC
World War II Memorial

Surrounded by two of Washington D.C.’s most notable structures – the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial – the National World War II Memorial was dedicated in May 2004. Operated by the National Park Service, it was designed to 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”.

Designing the Memorial

World War II Memorial seen from Washington Monument
The Memorial seen from Washington Monument

In 2001, a national competition was held to determine who would design the memorial. The winner was Friedrich St. Florian, an architect based in Providence, R.I. Florian was dubbed lead designer and was joined by a team of additional design professionals, including sculptor Ray Kaskey and stone carver/letterer Nick Benson.

Almost all the funds for the National World War II Memorial were raised from private donations. The memorial received more than $197 million in cash and pledges, including $16 million from the federal government.

The Memorial

Compared to many of the other memorials located in the nation’s capital, the World War II Memorial seems massive. It sits on a 7.4 acre (3 ha) site and measures approximately 337 feet long by 240 feet wide (103 x 73 meter).

World War II Monument, Washington DC
The Memorial seen from Washington Monument

The memorial, which sits about six feet or approximately two meters below grade, includes 56 identical white pillars arranged in two semicircles surrounding a central plaza, each pillar bearing the name of the 48 states that were part of the U.S. during World War II. There’s also one for the territories of Alaska and Hawaii as well as Puerto Rico, Guam, Philippines, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The pillars feature bronze and granite wreaths designed by Kaskey.

On the northern side is an arch dedicated to the Atlantic theater and on the other side is an arch inscribed with the word “Pacific”, paying tribute to the battles staged there. Kaskey also designed the wreaths and brass eagles under those arches. In addition, he created 24 bas-relief panels depicting not only specific battles but also the war effort at home, with titles such as “shipbuilding” and “women in military”.

World War II Memorial's central fountain, rainbow pool in Washington, DC
Rainbow Pool

In the center of the plaza is the “Rainbow Pool” with its attractive circle of fountains. Flagpoles frame the entrance to the memorial and bases of granite and bronze are adorned with the military service seals of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Army Air Forces, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine. Ramps emerge from the entrance and lead around the plaza, accommodating handicapped visitors.

The 9-foot-high (3 meter) Freedom Wall, decorated with 4,043 gold stars, completes the picture and commemorates those who lost their lives in the war, with one star for each one hundred soldiers who died.

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