History & Culture
The World War II Memorial honors the service of sixteen million members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America, the support of countless millions on the home front, and the ultimate sacrifice of 405,399 Americans. On May 29, 2004, a four-day “grand reunion” of veterans on the National Mall culminated in the dedication of this tribute to the legacy of “The Greatest Generation.”
Granite, bronze, and water elements harmoniously blend with the lawns, trees, and shrubbery of the surrounding landscape. Here, the spirit of the L’Enfant Plan for the City of Washington lives on through successful integration of a memorial into the openness of the National Mall. Great vistas endure toward the Washington Monument, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and Lincoln Memorial.
The twenty-four bronze bas-relief panels that flank the Ceremonial Entrance offer glimpses into the human experience at home and at war. They breathe new life into familiar black and white photographs or newsreels—especially, when a visiting veteran describes one of the scenes. The memorial also features areas where veterans’ recollections come flooding back, triggered by the sight of dozens of battle names and military campaign designations carved into stone. A wall of 4,048 Gold Stars silently pays solemn tribute to the sacrifice of more than 405,000 American lives.
Fifty-six granite columns, split between two half-circles framing the rebuilt Rainbow Pool with its celebratory fountains, symbolize the unprecedented wartime unity among the forty-eight states, seven federal territories, and the District of Columbia. Bronze ropes tie the columns together, while bronze oak and wheat wreathes respectively represent the nation’s industrial and agricultural strengths. Two 43-foot tall pavilions proclaim American victory on the Atlantic and Pacific fronts—on land, at sea, and in the air. Several hidden treasures appear as well, such as the famous “Kilroy was here” graffiti familiar to every veteran of the Second World War.
Visitors to the memorial are encouraged to search The World War II Registry, a computerized database honoring Americans who helped win the war, either overseas or on the home front. The National Park Service staff offers assistance to those wishing to update the list with additional names or information.
The National Park Service offers daily tours of the memorial every hour on the hour, from 10:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. In addition, Park Rangers offer several extended, in-depth walking and bicycle tours that include the World War II Memorial. The memorial is open daily from 9:00 a.m. until 11:45 p.m.; it is closed on December 25 and for annual events surrounding the National Independence Day Celebration.
Did You Know?
The enormously popular “Kilroy Was Here” graffiti of the Second World War, likely originated with James J. Kilroy, a ship inspector at the Fore River shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, who would sign his completed work with his famous cartoon signature.