The World War II Memorial is located in the heart of the National Mall in Washington D.C. The memorial is located at the end of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool with the Washington Monument to the east.
The World War II Memorial was opened to the public on April 29, 2004. The memorial honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the United States, the more than 400,000 who died during the war and all who supported the war effort from home. Additionally, the memorial stands as a monument that represents the spirit, sacrifice and commitment of the American people for the cause of freedom.
The formal entrance is from the Washington Monument side and the entrance is framed with two flagpoles flying the American flag.
The memorial is divided into two sides (north and south) that represent the Atlantic and Pacific campaigns during the war. Each side is represented with a 43 foot high and 23 foot square arched pavilion. These pavilions also act as entrances to walk into the memorial.
Inside the pavilion there are four massive bronze sculptures of bald eagles, each holding laurel wreath (symbolizing victory and peace) in their beaks.
Directly beneath the wreath is a large medallion depicting Nike (the Roman Goddess of Victory) standing on the helmet of Mars (the God of War).
On the inside of the pavilion is a semi-circular fountain with the names of battles from the campaign and quotes from presidents and generals.
Surrounding the fountain are 56 columns that represent the men and women from each of the states, commonwealths and territories that served under the U.S. flag during WWII.
Each column is 17’ tall, 4’-4” inches wide and 3’ deep with two wreaths (one inside and one outside). One wreath consists of oak leaves representing industrial might and the other wreath consists of wheat representing the agricultural might of the United States.
The columns are connected by a bronze sculpted rope forming a ring of columns around the plaza that symbolizes the bonding of the nation.
The order of the states may seem random but they are actually arranged in the order that they became part of the United States, starting with Delaware and Pennsylvania, the first two states to ratify the U.S. Constitution on either side of the Freedom Wall.
At the west side of the memorial stands the Freedom Wall that is inscribed with the title “Here We Mark the Price of Freedom”. The wall is an arched wall that is 84’-8” wide, 9’ high with a radius of 41’-9”.
The front of the wall holds 4,048 gold stars each representing 100 American servicemen who gave their lives or remain missing in the war.
The gold stars come from a military tradition where military families hang flags in their homes to signify that a family member is serving in uniform.
If that member paid the ultimate sacrifice then the blue star is replace with a gold star. Standing in front of Wall of Freedom is a sobering moment. Nothing can correctly represent over 400,000 lost lives but I think that a seemingly uncountable wall of gold stars makes a statement that can’t be ignored.
In the center of the memorial is a beautiful fountain that was restored from the Rainbow Pool that was located at the same site. The renovated pool added the oval fountain and the two large fountains on each end of the oval. The fountain is beautiful during the day but is stunning at night.
Visiting the WWII Memorial gave me several different feelings:
- Seeing the columns representing all of the U. S. states and territories gave me the feeling of unity.
- Seeing the two pavilions on opposite sides of the memorial gave me the sense of this war truly being a world war being fought in many places around the world.
- Standing in front of the Freedom Wall and seeing all of the gold stars representing the lives lost during the war gave me the feeling of sacrifice not only of the soldiers but the sacrifice that their families made.
But by far my overwhelming feeling is the feeling of sadness because this memorial only tells a small part of the story. There are WWII memorials literally all over the world. I have seen them in Australia, Germany, Japan, the Philippines and I know there are many more.
I don’t think anyone really knows how many people died during World War II. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans give the following estimate:
- People from 41 countries were killed
- 15,000,000 Battlefield deaths
- 25,000,000 Battlefield wounded
- 45,000,000 Civilian deaths
(These figures could be greatly under estimated. Some estimates are as high as 75,000,000 deaths)
I find it unimaginable that so many people could be killed in just six (6) years.