The National World War II Memorial is dedicated to Americans who supported the Allies during World War II as both armed forces and civilians. The Memorial was officially opened on April 29th, 2004 before being dedicated by President George W. Bush on May 29th, 2004. The 56 pillars and pair of triumphal arches surround a plaza and a large fountain, formerly known as the Rainbow Pool, located at the eastern end of the Reflecting Pool. The site is part of the National Mall and Memorials Parks division of the National Park Service, with the view of the Lincoln Memorial as its backdrop and Washington Monument in the foreground. While visitor data is limited, recent estimates put the number of people who visit the memorial annually at more than 5 million.
The original concept for the memorial goes back to 1987 when World War II veteran Roger Durbin approached Representative Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat from Ohio, to ask if a World War II memorial could be constructed. On December 10th, 1987, Kaptur introduced the World War II Memorial Act to the House as HR 3742. The proposed resolution would have authorized the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) to establish the World War II memorial in “Washington, D.C., or its environs”. However, the original bill was not voted on before the end of Congress’ session.
Versions of the original bill were proposed again in 1989 and 1991, but were equally unsuccessful. It wasn’t until January 27th, 1993 that HR 682, the fourth attempt, was introduced. HR 682 was introduced the day after Senator Strom Thurmond, a Republican from South Carolina, introduced the companion Senate Legislation. The Senate approved the act on March 17th, 1993, followed by the House passing an amended version on May 4th, 1993. By May 12th, the amended version was successfully passed through the Senate and placed onto President Bill Clinton’s desk to be signed into law on May 25th, 1993. The World War II Memorial Act is officially known as Public Law 103-32.
It wasn’t until September 30th, 1994 that President Clinton formally appointed a 12-member Memorial Advisory Board (MAB) to advise the ABMC. The primary responsibilities of the MAB were to help pick the site, design of the memorial, and assist in fundraising. Direct mail fundraising brought in millions of dollars from individual donors. Several large donations also came from veteran’s groups such as the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, among others. Corporate fundraising was managed by Senator Bob Dole, a World War II veteran, and Frederick W. Smith, the President and CEO of FedEx Corporation and a former U.S. Marine Corps officer. In total more than $197 million was raised in conjunction with $16 million from the federal government.
There were multiple sites considered in the early part of 1995, but the primary favorites were: U.S. Capitol Reflection Pool area located between 3rd Street and Ulysses S. Grant Memorial; Constitution Gardens’ east end, between Constitution Avenue and the Rainbow Pool; and Freedom Plaza – in an area located on Pennsylvania Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets. The other sites that lost out included the Tidal Basin, West Potomac Park, Grounds of the Washington Monument, and Henderson Hall.
The final site selection of the Rainbow Pool area was announced to the public on October 5th, 1995. It was decided that the design would incorporate the existing prominent Rainbow Pool fountain which had been in place for over 70 years. The site is directly across from the Washington Monument and adjacent to the Constitution Gardens.
The design competition held led to 400 submissions being entered by architects from around the United States. The eventual winner, Friedrich St. Florian, was revealed in 1997. It would take nearly four years of changes and review before the final design was approved. The primary advisor during the approval process was Ambassador Haydn Williams.
Friedrich St. Florian’s design is comprised of 56 granite pillars, which each stand 17 feet tall, in a semicircular arrangement around 43 foot tall triumphal arches at each end of a large plaza that features the Rainbow Pool. The 56 pillars are inscribed with the names of each of the 48 states in 1945, as well as the Alaska Territory, Territory of Hawaii, Commonwealth of the Philippines, Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia.
The two triumphal arches represent the two theaters of World War II, the Atlantic and Pacific. The northern arch represents Atlantic, whereas the southern represents the Pacific.
The large plaza inside of the columns and arches is made up primarily of a lowered Rainbow Pool which was sunk 6 feet into the ground. The plaza in its entirety is 337 feet, 10 inches long, and 240 feet, 2 inches wide. The Rainbow Pool is 246 feet, 9 inches long by 147 feet, 8 inches wide.
The memorial has been renovated as recently as 2012. However, it’s original groundbreaking dates back to September, 2001 with construction managed by the General Services Adminstration.
Each piece of the memorial was done by separate contractors. The Sculptur Raymond Kaskey was chosen for the bronze eagles and wreathes that were installed under the triumphal arches crafted by Rock of Ages Corporation. Kaskey also produced the 24 bronze bas-relief panels that depict various scenes from the war’s two theaters – the Atlantic and Pacific.
The bronze bas-relief panels took over two and a half years to be completed by Laran Bronze in Chester Pennsylvania. Stainless-steel components, such as the armature that holds up the eagles and wrethes were designed by Laran with the assistance of James Peniston, another sculptor tasked to the memorial. Fabrication of all stainless-steel pieces was done by Apex Piping of Newport, Delaware.
Many take notice of the inscriptions featured throughout the memorial, all of which were done by The John Stevens Shop. The typeface chosen is unique to the memorial and all inscriptions were performed by hand.
Visiting the National World War II Memorial
While the National World War II Memorial is open to the public 24 hours a day, Park Rangers are only on site to answer questions between 9:30 AM and 11:30 PM daily. Between 10:00 AM and 11:00 PM daily there are interpretive programs available every hour, on the hour.
Located in the hub of the city between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, along the National Mall, the National World War II Memorial is easily reached via Metro Bus and Metro Rail lines. The closest stations to the memorial are the Smithsonian and Federal Triangle, serviced by the orange and blue lines. If you opt for a bus, the 32, 34, and 36 routes will stop nearby.
We highly advise taking public transportation options which will leave you within a very short walking distance. However, if you do decide to drive, there is some parking available on Ohio Drive. There are limited handicapped accessible parking spots, but is generally scarce. You should not rely on parking spots being available during busy tourism seasons.
The National World War II Memorial’s location on the National Mall places it central to many of the other popular destinations such as the Washington Monument, Reflecting Pool, Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the Constitution Gardens, as well as the Lincoln Memorial.
If you walk to the south, there are popular stops available at the Jefferson Memorial, Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which are part of the Tidal Basin.
You will be able to walk from the World War II Memorial directly to other sights, such as the White House, and Holocaust Museum nearby.
The longest-running fish market in the United States is also located nearby at the Southwest Waterfront. Close to the East Potomac Park.