In the middle of my walk around the National Mall (general National Mall post here) I visited the National World War II Memorial. This was my first time visiting D.C. since it opened and I was really looking forward to seeing it. Once I visited I knew it had to have its own post, because this was by far my favorite part of my visit to D.C. I’m glad that I had a chance to visit this over Memorial Day Weekend. It added a whole other dimension to my recognition and understanding of the weekend.
I think the most important thing about the Memorial is that I feel veterans could hopefully come to the Memorial and connect with their personal experience when they served. There’s no way to ever completely honor veterans for their sacrifice, much less do so through just a physical memorial, but I do think the designers utilized the space they had to give each veteran multiple parts to engage with. The memorial is focused around arched pavilions at each end representing the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. Below each pavilion are markers for parts of that theater (such as Western Europe and Central Europe), plus references to some specific battles like D-Day. Additionally ringing the outside of the memorial are columns for each of the states (48 at the time) and territories. The ability to visit multiple places (your theater, the smaller subset, your home state, and potentially a battle you fought in) and reflect on your experience, I hope is as powerful for veterans as I imagine it would be. Building a memorial for veterans to be able to engage with and be honored by is by far the most important thing and I think this Memorial does that well.
The next most important thing is for non-veterans to understand the significance and sacrifice of World War II fighters. Overall and at multiple points I just I felt very moved by the Memorial. All the markers described above (the two theaters, sub-areas, battles, and states) made your realize the magnitude of this war and the sacrifice and involvement of the entire nation. There then are quotes throughout the Memorial that were powerful in their own right, but also added to what you were seeing visually. The best example was the quote “Here We Mark The Price Of Freedom” engraved on the ledge in front of the Freedom Wall with 4,048 gold stars. Each star represents 100 Americans who died in the war. The other quotes that had a great impact on me were:
- D-Day: “You are about to embark upon the great crusade toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you… I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle.”- General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
- Battle of Midway: “They had no right to win. Yet they did, and in doing so they changed the course of a war… Even against the greatest of odds, there is something in the human spirit- a magic blend of skill, faith, and valor- that can lift men from certain to defeat to incredible victory.”- Walter Lord
These quotes triggered a lot of emotions thinking about what must have been going through these men’s minds the night before and what powered them through to fight and potentially self-sacrifice for our country and for freedom. Every part of this Memorial (whether big or small) made you reflect and gives thanks for the sacrifices of our veterans. One quote summed that up pretty well- “Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.”- President Harry S. Truman.
The Memorial to me is stunningly beautiful, but in a solemn sense. It’s not flashy or elaborate. It is however still momentous and dignified. I think this ensures that it doesn’t detract from the emotions and impact of everything I described above. Again you feel reflective, grateful, and moved. The reflecting pool with the fountains and the views of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument add to the beauty of the Memorial, but also adds to the significance of the Memorial. The sacrifice and impact of our veterans is appropriately honored (as much as is possible) on the National Mall.
I know every trip back to D.C. will include a visit to the National World War II Memorial and I’ve tried to keep the emotions from my first visit top of mind. I highly highly encourage, recommend, and really implore people to visit the World War II Memorial when they are in Washington D.C.
National World War II Memorial- 1750 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C.