World War 2 Memorial

The World War 2 Memorial is a landmark honoring Americans who fought in the armed services and civilians. 

From the moment it was established in the spring of 2004, the World War 2 Memorial was indeed a hit with attendees. 

Hundreds of World War 2 veterans gathered at the state capitol on Memorial Day weekend that year to see the memorial’s ceremonial dedication. 

It is on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It comprises 56 pillars signifying U.S. states and territories and a couple of miniature edifices symbolizing the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, surrounded by an elliptical patio and fountain.

The memorial, planned by Friedrich St. Florian, a former executive of the Rhode Island School of Design, depicts the significant correlation between the home front and the combat front. 

Americans at residence and those battling abroad depended on each other’s assistance during this pivotal event in the twentieth century. 

The memorial was inaugurated by President George W. Bush on May 29, 2004, after it launched on April 29, 2004. 

The National Park Service manages the memorial as part of its National Mall and Memorial Parks program. Furthermore, in 2018, around 4.6 million tourists visited the monument.

Does the World War 2 memorial include veteran names?

No, it does not. Unlike the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, no names are included at the World War 2 Memorial. Instead, veterans killed in action are honored with the gold stars.

How many granite pillars are there in the memorial?

There are 56 granite pillars in the memorial, each 17-feet tall, laid out in a semicircle around a plaza. 


World War 2 Memorial Aerial View
World War 2 Memorial Aerial View

The memorial comprises 56 17-foot-tall granite columns set in a semicircle around a patio with two 43-foot-tall (13-meter) towers on separate sides. Water and greenery also cover two-thirds of the 7.4-acre (3.0-hectare) plot. 

Moreover, two unobtrusive “Kilroy was here” plaques are included in the memorial. 

Their placement in the memorial recognizes the symbol’s relevance to American soldiers during World War 2, and how it signified their existence and security everywhere it was written. 

Each pillar also bears the name of one of the 48 original United States, one of the most powerful countries of WW2.  

And also the Hawaii and Alaska Territory, the District of Columbia, the Philippines Commonwealth of Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the United States Virgin Islands. 

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Similarly, visitors can approach the semicircle from the east and travel along two walls (right-hand side and left lateral wall). 

The walls also depict themes from the combat experience in bas relief. As one advances from the left (toward the Pacific arch), the sequences start with soon-to-be soldiers having physical exams, swearing an oath, and receiving military equipment. 

Likewise, the proclamation stone, located at the east end of the memorial, also defines the memorial’s location within the environment of West Potomac Park. 

As it opens, “Here amid Washington and Lincoln…”, the reader cannot help but comprehend the profound significance of this memorial to American sacrifice during World War 2.

A similar trend can also be found on the right-side wall (toward the Atlantic arch), but with more characteristic themes of the European theater. 

Some scenes are also set in England and portray the arrangements for air and sea attacks. The western and eastern fronts united in Germany is what the last shot shows, indicated by a handshake between the American and Russian forces. 

The Freedom Wall

Freedom Wall and The Price of Freedom
Freedom Wall and The Price of Freedom

The Freedom Wall is located on the plaza’s western edge, with a vista of the Reflecting Pool and Lincoln Memorial behind it. 

The wall is adorned with 4,048 gold stars, each signifying 100 Americans killed in the war. The statement “Here we mark the price of freedom” is written in front of the wall.

As one proceeds into the memorial’s traditional entrance from the east, the memorial’s striking symbolic geometry becomes obvious.

The north side of the memorial commemorates the triumph over the Axis powers in Europe, while the south side commemorates the victory in the Pacific.


A seal of World War 2 Victory Medal design
A seal of World War 2 Victory Medal design

In 1987, a veteran of World War 2- Roger Durbin, addressed Representative Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat from Ohio, to inquire about the possibility of erecting a World War 2 memorial. 

Then, on December 10, Kaptur proposed HR 3742, the World War 2 Memorial Act, in the House of Representatives. 

Consequently, the resolution permitted the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) to create a World War 2 commemoration memorial in “Washington, D.C., or its surrounds.”

Still, Congress did not pass on the bill before the session ended. Moreover, Rep. Kaptur also presented similar laws in 1989 and 1991, but they followed the same path as the first and failed to become law. 

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On January 27, 1993, Kaptur presented the bill in the House for the fourth time as HR 682, one day after Senator Strom Thurmond (a Republican from South Carolina) proposed corresponding Senate legislation. 

On March 17, 1993, Congress confirmed the act while the House enacted an altered version of the bill on May 4, 1993. 

Congress also adopted the modified bill on May 12, and President Bill Clinton passed the bill on May 25 that year.

The Design

Five state pillars and flag
Five state pillars and flag

A statewide design contest garnered 400 entries from architects across the country. Subsequently, in 1997, the committee chose the initial phase design by Friedrich St. Florian. 

The design of St. Florian is reminiscent of a classical landmark. Four eagles hoist an oak laurel wreath beneath the two memorial spires, the Pacific and Atlantic Baldacchino. 

Each of the 56 pillars is adorned with oak wreaths, representing economic and intelligence power, and wheat, which means crop yields.

Similarly, St. Florian’s concept was changed over the next four years as part of the regulatory approval procedure required of planned memorials in Washington, D.C. Ambassador Haydn Williams oversaw the design process for ABMC.

Similarly, water from the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool rushes into the courtyard via two cascading waterfalls, accumulating underneath the stars, bordering the wall.

Plantings also extend outwards from the memorial’s circumference, smoothing its edge and blending the site into the park surroundings. 

Likewise, in the theme of remembering, Oehme van Sweden constrained the plant canvas to white-flowering plants, such as magnolias and azaleas.

FDR’s D-Day Prayer

The price of Freedom
The price of Freedom

On May 23, 2013, Senator Rob Portman presented the World War 2 Memorial Prayer Act of 2013. The Secretary of the Interior needed to configure an appropriate plaque or inscription at the World War 2 memorial.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt prayed with the phrases alongside the United States on June 6, 1944. 

On June 30, 2014, Congress passed the bill, and the Commission of Fine Arts chose a layout at the Circle of Remembrance to the northwest of the memorial. 

Once money and funding are secured, it will be consecrated on June 6, 2022.

Layout and Stylistic Criticism

The southern end of the memorial, Pacific theater
The southern end of the memorial, Pacific theater

There were aesthetic issues with the design. A Boston Herald critic regarded the monument as “self-aggrandizing, insistent of attention, and full of hackneyed imagery” Boston Herald critic.

Moreover, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “this pretentious approach was also preferred by Hitler and Mussolini.” 

It was regarded as “overzealous,” “sensational,” and a “conglomeration of cliché and Soviet-style pretension” with “the emotional punch of a slab of concrete” by the Washington Post.

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In like manner, president Bill Clinton’s initial idea also contained only 50 pillars recognizing the Union’s 48 states during World War 2 and only two of the eight quasi jurisdictions at the height of the war.

The provinces of Hawaii and Alaska were later incorporated into the Union. 

Likewise, the Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly also passed a Concurrent Resolution on June 2, 1997, proposing that a pillar commemorating the landmass of Puerto Rico’s involvement in the war effort be included in the final design. 

Sen. Kenneth McClintock, the bill’s writer, undertook a lobbying campaign in advance of the bill’s widening to 56 columns, recognizing the 48 existing states in 1945.

 The states consisted of the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, American Samoa, and the United States Virgin Islands.

Some admirers claimed that the structure reminded of New Deal-era federal architecture, motivated by an austere rendition of Art Deco/Beaux-Arts forms. 

One architecture critic condemned this viewpoint and the monument as “knee-jerk historicism.” 

Location Criticism

Memorial From the Washington Monument
Memorial From the Washington Monument

The National Coalition to Save Our Mall, for example, objected to the memorial’s site. 

One major criticism regarding the location was that it would disrupt what had previously been an uninterrupted view between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. 

The memorial was also chastised for occupying open territory civilians had previously used for large demonstrations and protests.

Consequently, the hastened approval process, which is usually somewhat extensive, particularly irritated critics.

Concerned that World War 2 veterans would perish before an adequate memorial could be completed, the United States Congress passed a resolution absolving the monument from any other site and architectural scrutiny. 

In addition, Congress also dropped all ongoing legal objections to the memorial.


Even though the federal government contributed $16 million towards the memorial fund, it needed upwards of $164 million in private funds to get it completed. 

What’s more, former Kansas Senator Bob Dole, who was seriously injured in the war, and actor Tom Hanks were also among its most outspoken advocates. 

Moreover, only a tiny percentage of the 16 million Americans who participated in the Great War would see it. 

According to government figures, there were four million World War 2 veterans surviving at the time, with more than 1,100 deaths every day. 

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