Memorial Moves Forward

Site to Honor WWII Vets in Final Preparations

Posted March 30, 2004 at 2:32pm

Workers are putting the finishing touches on the National World War II Memorial, which is scheduled to be dedicated during a four-day celebration over Memorial Day weekend.

Construction of the memorial is near complete, and the site will open to visitors in mid-April, said Betsy Glick, a spokeswoman for the American Battlefield Memorial Commission. The memorial will not be officially dedicated until May 29, she said.

“It pretty much looks exactly the way the artist pictured it in the renderings that we have on our Web site,” Glick said. “The only thing that you really don’t get a feel for unless you’re standing in the site is how it fits in the surroundings. It feels like it belongs there.”

The 117,000 seats that were made available for the official dedication are sold out, but a nonticketed viewing area on the Mall has been created to seat about 10,000 more people and allow for 30,000 more in a standing-room-only area.

Hundreds of thousands are expected to come to the Mall during the dedication weekend. About 170,000 tickets were requested for the ceremony alone, Glick said.

To accommodate those vets who cannot come to Washington during the weekend, veteran service organizations such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars will sponsor local tributes to the World War II generation over the weekend.

“It’s just totally impossible for every World War II veteran to get to Washington for the dedication ceremony,” said Lee Harris, deputy director of public relations for the American Legion. “We’ve asked [local chapters] to do what they can to spearhead community events.”

Chapters will participate in a number of activities, from prayer breakfasts to giving vets certificates to walk-a-thons hosted to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals in honor of the World War II generation, Harris said.

In a pamphlet given to local posts, the VFW urged members to host dinners honoring World War II vets and to arrange for vets to visit schools and talk about wartime life.

Both groups urged local chapters to access satellite uplinks of the ceremony made available to be broadcasted in college auditoriums, stadiums and veterans’ group halls across the country. The History Channel and C-SPAN are also expected carry the ceremony live.

Local residents who want to celebrate should come on days other than the actual ceremony to take part in events sponsored by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, which will take place all weekend and are free, Glick said.

The “Tribute to a Generation: National World War II Reunion” event is expected to be the largest gathering of World War II veterans in one place since the war ended in 1945, said Jim Deutsch, a program curator for the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

“It’s not just for people who served in uniform,” Deutsch said. “It’s also people who worked on the homefront.”

Dozens of activities will be available each day for visitors, including a homecoming stage that will feature the music of the World War II era, two separate venues that will present wartime stories and narratives from the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, displays of military equipment from the war and activities so families can learn about the war together.

“We are hoping to educate our younger visitors about what World War II was all about, about the sacrifices that were made,” Deutsch said.

Resources will teach visitors about wartime rationing and plane spotting. Visitors can also learn about “V-mail,” which allowed written letters to be put on microfilm and mailed overseas, allowing more letters to reach troops faster.

It is hoped the event will “bring together these different generations,” Deutsch said.

Children can also learn how to interview their grandparents and great-grandparents who were alive during the war about their memories, Deutsch said.

“There’s so much going on over those four days,” he said. “We’re expecting large crowds, and we hope to have enough to satisfy everyone who comes.”