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The History Behind the National Mall World War II Memorial

A powerful tribute to those who fought for America in WW2, discover the inspiring story behind the creation and dedication of the National Mall World War II Memorial.

The World War II Memorial, open 24/7 is dedicated to the States and Territories that were in the Union at the end of World War II – the homes states, and territories of the Allied troops who won the war. At the center of the Memorial is a spectacular fountain open from mid-March to early December.

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 the war concluded. 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. 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.

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. This gigantic fountain, operating from March to December is festive with pulsing water and commemorates the lives of the soldiers who returned from war and energetically re-embraced life.

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 materials 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 the 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.

The World War II Memorial located at 17th Street & Independence Ave, SW, is open 24/7. There is a small parking lot for the memorial along Independence Ave, as well as a Park Ranger Station and bathrooms that close in the evening.


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