WWII Memorial Design

The National World War II Memorial design recognizes that the site itself pays special tribute to America’s WWII generation. The Memorial design creates a special place within the vast openness of the National Mall to commemorate the sacrifice and celebrate the victory of WWII, yet remains respectful and sensitive to its historic surroundings. The vistas from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial and the site’s park-like setting are preserved, and the double row of elm trees that flank the Memorial have been restored. Above all, the design creates a powerful sense of place that is distinct, memorable, evocative and serene.

Following a national design competition, architect Friedrich St.Florian’s design concept was selected for the National World War II Memorial. The core of St.Florian’s design was focused on rebuilding the original Olmstead “Rainbow” pool and restoring its fountains by reconstructing it on a smaller scale and giving it a special presence by lowering it 7-feet below grade to allow for vertical architecture which could represent the story and sacrifice made by the nation during World War II.

The Plaza

The Memorial plaza and Rainbow Pool are the principal design features of the Memorial, unifying all other elements. Two flagpoles flying the American flag frame the ceremonial entrance at 17th Street. The bases of granite and bronze are adorned with the military service seals of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Army Air Forces, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine. Ceremonial steps and ramps lead from 17th Street into the plaza. A series of 24 bronze bas-relief panels along the ceremonial entrance balustrades depict America’s war years, at home and overseas. The Announcement Stone of the Memorial is located at the 17th Street ceremonial entrance.


Curvilinear ramps at the north and south approaches provide access to the plaza for visitors walking along the existing east-west pathways between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. These ramps provide a gentle entry to the plaza. Granite benches follow the curvilinear rampart walls.

WWII Memorial

Pavilions or “Victory Arches”

Two 43-foot pavilions serve as markers and entries on the north and south ends of the plaza. Bronze baldacchinos are an integral part of the pavilion design. Four bronze columns support four American eagles that hold a suspended victory laurel to memorialize the victory of the WWII generation. Inlayed on the floor of the pavilions are the WWII victory medal surrounded by the years “1941-1945” and the words “Victory on Land,” “Victory at Sea,” and “Victory in the Air.” These sculptural elements celebrate the victory won in the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters.


Fifty-six granite pillars celebrate the unprecedented unity of the nation during WWII. The pillars are connected by a bronze sculpted rope that symbolizes the bonding of the nation. Each state and territory from that period and the District of Columbia is represented by a pillar adorned with oak and wheat bronze wreaths and inscribed with its name; the pillars are arranged in the order of entry into the Union, alternating south to north across the plaza beginning adjacent to the Field of Gold Stars. The 17-foot pillars are open in the center for greater transparency, and ample space between each allows viewing into and across the Memorial.

Commemorative Area

Within a commemorative area at the western side of the Memorial is recognized the sacrifice of America’s WWII generation and the contribution of our allies. A field of 4,000 sculpted gold stars on the Freedom Wall commemorate the more than 400,000 Americans who gave their lives. During WWII, the gold star was the symbol of family sacrifice.

Rainbow Pool and Waterworks

The historic waterworks of the Rainbow Pool are completely restored and contribute to the celebratory nature of the Memorial. The design provides seating along the pool circumference for visitors. Semi-circular fountains at the base of the two Memorial pavilions and waterfalls flanking the Freedom Wall complement the waterworks in the Rainbow Pool.


Two-thirds of the 7.4-acre Memorial site is landscaping and water, allowing the Memorial to nestle comfortably within its park-like setting. The ceremonial entrance has three large lawn panels between the monumental steps. The elm trees have been restored to their original splendor, and a replanting plan replaced unhealthy trees. A landscaped contemplative area is located at the northwestern corner of the site. Canopies of flowering trees augment re-seeded lawns.


The Memorial is constructed of bronze and granite. Granite was chosen for its aesthetic appeal, superior strength, and durability. The two principal stones selected for the Memorial are “Kershaw” for the vertical elements and “Green County” for the main plaza paving stone. “Kershaw” is quarried in South Carolina, while “Green County” is quarried in Georgia. Two green stones – “Rio Verde” and “Moss Green” – were used for accent paving on the plaza. Both are quarried in Brazil. “Academy Black” and “Mount Airy” were used to reconstruct the Rainbow Pool. To enhance the aesthetic appearance of the water surface of the pool, an apron of “Academy Black,” quarried in California, were used for the vertical interior surfaces.


  • 4 bronze columns, 4 bronze eagles and 1 bronze laurel within each pavilion
  • 24 bronze bas relief sculptures along the ceremonial entrance (12 on each side)
  • 4,000 sculpted gold stars on the Freedom Wall
  • 112 bronze wreaths w/armatures (2 wreaths on each pillar, one on each side)
  • 56 bronze ropes between the pillars


  • Length (back of pavilion to back of pavilion): 384’
  • Width (back of basin behind Freedom Wall to bottom of ceremonial entrance): 279’
  • Plaza: 337’-10” long; 240’-2” wide; 6’ below grade
  • Ceremonial entrance: 148’-3” wide; 147’-8” long (curb to plaza)
  • 2 Pavilions: 43’ above grade; 23’ square
  • 56 Pillars: 17’ above grade; 4’4” wide; 3’ deep
  • Freedom Wall: 84’-8” wide; 9’ high from plaza floor; 41’-9” radius

Bas-Relief Panels

A series of bas-relief sculpture panels created by Kaskey Studio is set into the balustrades of the north and south ceremonial entrance walls. The bas-reliefs consist of 24 separate panels. The 12 on the north depict the Atlantic front; the 12 on the south depict the Pacific front.

The unifying theme of the panels is the transformation of America caused by the country’s total immersion in World War II. The panels depict the all-out mobilization of America’s agricultural, industrial, military, and human resources that transformed the country into the arsenal of democracy as well as the breadbasket of the world.

The visual inspiration for these panels is the bas-relief sculptures that encircle the Pension Building in Washington, D.C., which were influenced by the bas-reliefs on the Parthenon. What these bas-reliefs have in common is that all are isocephalic, a Greek word meaning that the heads of the principal figures line up horizontally. The human scale is the visual unifying element common to all 24 panels; all details, scenes, equipment, etc. are subordinated to the scale of the figure. The unity of purpose unique to this time in America is best evoked by placing the visual emphasis on the individual in this time-honored manner. Most of the panels are based on historical photos.

Lend Lease

Prior to the United States entry into the war with Japan and Germany, many of its future allies, including Great Britain, Russia, and China, desperately needed assistance. Instituting the "Lend Lease" policy, President Franklin Roosevelt agreed to lease ships, tanks, jeeps, and food, with allied payment to follow after the war. Despite the fact that the U.S. was attempting to maintain neutrality in the war effort, the Lend Lease Act, the institution of the peace-time draft, and the preparations for total war signaled America’s preparations for entry into WWII starting after France fell in 1940.

Bond Drive

On the home front during the war, Americans both young and old offered assistance to friends and family members fighting overseas; they raised "Victory Gardens" and held scrap drives. In order to raise money for the war effort, Americans participated in rallies and parades encouraging the sale of War Bonds. Americans would generally buy a War Bond for $18.75 that would mature in 10 years to $25. The money used to buy the War Bond went to the government war effort and then would be returns, with interest, a decade later.

Women in Military

Prior to the war, women could only serve the military in nursing and clerical positions. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, however, the military allowed women to serve as pilots and in other new non-combatant roles. Newly established units included the Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service, Women's Air Force Service Pilots, Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, and several reserve units. Several women, especially WASPs, lost their lives during the war, but because they were considered civil service employees without official military status, they were granted no military honors or benefits. It wasn’t until 1977 that the WASPs received full military status.

Rosie the Riveter Aircraft Construction

Due to a severe manpower shortage, factories increasingly employed women whose pre-war roles kept them at home. These women helped build the aircraft, ships, and tanks vital to the war effort. Nicknamed "Rosie the Riveter,” she substantially increased production of war material to unheard of levels. Women of all races and social classes contributed to the war effort as “Rosies,” although racial discrimination followed them into the factories. Additionally, although white women saw increased freedoms as they took on more responsibilities and made their own money, African-American women, who largely had been working before the war as well, did not see as much of a status shift due to their efforts as “Rosies” during WWII.

Battle of the Atlantic

To hamper the transport of American industrial might across the Atlantic, the German Navy effectively utilized its U-Boat submarine force. Operating in groups called "Wolf Packs,” U-Boats sank over 2500 allied ships by war's end. The implementation of the convoy system and the breaking of German codes substantially aided the allied victory in the Atlantic. A new technology called radar, which had been developed in the 1930s, was instrumental in both the Allies’ and Axis’ efforts.

Air War/B-17

During the Second World War, aircraft became a vital instrument of warfare. Allied bombers, protected by fighter escort, destroyed enemy factories and infrastructure, including railroads and bridges. Sadly, enemy fighter planes along with anti-aircraft fire called “flak,” devastated thousands of aircrews. The B-17 "Flying Fortress" fought alongside many other famous planes, including the P-51 "Mustang." Both the Allied and Axis powers utilized techniques of strategic bombing (attacking specific targets like infrastructure and factories) and area bombing (attacking civilian-populated areas to negatively impact the morale of the enemy).


Fighter, bomber, and transport aircraft each became a necessity to the Allied war effort. Transport aircraft, especially, introduced a new method of delivering troops to the front line. They dropped highly skilled airborne troops, called paratroopers, behind enemy lines at places such as Sicily, Normandy, Holland, and Germany.

Normandy Beach Landing

After nearly two years of attacking German held positions in France with bomber aircraft, the Allies launched the "D-Day" invasion on June 6, 1944. The joint Operation, codenamed "Overlord,” landed allied troops on the northern shores of France. Landing craft successfully delivered troops to Normandy shores heavily laden with beach obstacles and exposed to a most galling German fire. The goal of the D-Day invasion was to open a second front for the war in Europe and there had been two major options for where to do this: France or the Baltics. The choice of France was at least in part to appease Josef Stalin, whose Soviet army had already paid the blood price on the first front of the war. It also conveniently set Europe up for its post-war pre-Cold War order.

Tanks in Combat

After nearly two years of attacking German held positions in France with bomber aircraft, the Allies launched the "D-Day" invasion on June 6, 1944. The joint Operation, codenamed "Overlord,” landed allied troops on the northern shores of France. Landing craft successfully delivered troops to Normandy shores heavily laden with beach obstacles and exposed to a most galling German fire. The goal of the D-Day invasion was to open a second front for the war in Europe and there had been two major options for where to do this: France or the Baltics. The choice of France was at least in part to appease Josef Stalin, whose Soviet army had already paid the blood price on the first front of the war. It also conveniently set Europe up for its post-war pre-Cold War order.

Medics in Field

During the American Civil War minor battlefield wounds often proved fatal. By the Second World War the survival rate of combat wounded improved dramatically due to advances in medicine and the use of Army Medics and Navy Corpsmen. Medics and Corpsmen often treated wounded under fire in the field, making them some of the bravest on the battlefield. Among the important advances in medicine were the discovery of penicillin, which prevented infection, and the development of blood bank technology for blood transfusions.

Battle of the Bulge

By mid-December 1944 the allies, standing on the doorstep of Germany, believed that Hitler's army had all but lost. That belief changed when Hitler launched a massive offensive into Belgium breaking the allied line creating a large "bulge." Dogged resistance by American units surrounded at key crossroad towns, along with German fuel shortages brought about the demise of Hitler's December offensive.

Russians meet Americans at the Elbe

Following the Battle of the Bulge and a winter of hard fighting, the Allies plowed into Germany on all sides. On April 25, 1945, American and Soviet  armies finally met at the Elbe River. American troops there discovered how hard the war had been for Russia. As the Soviets advanced into German territory from the east and the other Allies advanced from the west, many Germans fled west, hoping to be captured by the British or the Americans instead of by the Soviets, who were known for their brutality. The allied victory over Germany arrived twelve days later with its unconditional surrender.

Pearl Harbor

December 7, 1941, became a day that thrust the United States into a war that had been raging across the globe for nearly a decade. The United States offered its allies limited help until that point, through the Lend Lease program, but due to domestic political pressures the U.S. had to maintain its official neutrality. The Japanese attack against the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor shocked and enraged a nation, prompting a Congressional declaration of war.


Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, vast numbers of Americans, anxious to defend their country, enlisted in the Armed Forces. Despite high volunteer rates, the draft, initiated October16, 1940, became the military's answer for manpower shortages. Men and women, became members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marines. African-American volunteers were segregated into black-only units, while Japanese-Americans were prevented from enlisting until 1943.


Millions of Americans joined the military services at the onset of World War IL After extensive training at home, these brave men and women boarded ships, embarking on their crusade against tyranny and oppression. Luxury liners, such as the R.M.S. Queen Mary, served as cramped transport vessels taking troops "over there.”


In order to assist American allies, President Franklin Roosevelt established a policy of lending them war materiel. To transport that materiel overseas, American shipyards boosted production dramatically to meet the demand. Ship construction was not limited to transport vessels however. Following the devastating attack at Pearl Harbor, and throughout the war, warships became equally important.


War raged across the globe, creating desperate agricultural needs. U.S. allies receiving aid through the "lend lease" program, found food and other agricultural products equally as important as war materiel. In order to meet the global needs, American farms, recovering from the depression, became the breadbasket for the world. During the war, the American people were subject to rationing – of food, gas, clothing, and other materials. The federal government put the Food Rationing Program of 1942 into place to control supply and demand.

Submarine Warfare

The United States Navy had a difficult time recovering from Pearl Harbor. Battleships, the rulers of the sea, had been decimated, forcing aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines to take the lead. Submarines became extremely effective in stealthily targeting enemy shipping. These underwater vessels proved cramped and uncomfortable for the brave sailors who manned them.

Navy in Action

The naval war in the Pacific evolved dramatically during the early months of the war. The Japanese Navy was one of the best Navies in the world, making them a formidable foe for the U.S. Battleships that previously dominated the sea, took a back seat to the aircraft carrier. Carriers had the ability to deliver massive amounts of fire power at great distances. This new style of naval warfare played a dramatic role in the success of the United States strategy of hopping from one island to another.

Amphibious Landing

In order to defeat the Japanese in the Pacific, the United States adopted a new strategy of fighting. Island hopping entailed amphibious landings that deposited the troops and equipment required to capture the islands and the creation of air bases. Once secured, the island became the staging ground for the next series of attacks moving closer to Japan.

Jungle Warfare

After the troops landed on the beaches, they found themselves fighting in the middle of dense jungles. Jungle warfare proved to be a miserable experience for most of the veterans that endured it. The hot, humid climate and disease carrying insects combined with a well-fortified enemy, to make fighting in the jungles less than enjoyable.

Field Burial

Thousands of American soldiers died fighting in the jungles of the Pacific Theater. Logistically, it was impossible to immediately return fallen heroes to their families back home. Field burials became necessary in order to deal with the rising number of combat dead. The upturned M-1 Garand rifle, with the helmet placed on top, served as the temporary tombstone for many troops.


Throughout the course of the war, thousands of U.S. servicemen and women were taken prisoner. Whether they were shot-down pilots from aircraft carriers, rescued sailors from torpedoed ships, or captured soldiers from Bataan, they found themselves confined in Japanese prison camps. Liberation came late in the war for many of these malnourished, poorly-treated Americans.

V-J Day

After more than four miserable years of hard fighting against a determined foe, word of a Japanese surrender arrived in the Pacific on August 14, 1945. The surrender arrived after the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, respectively. The two cities were decimated by these new bombs, which killed hundreds of thousands of people, many of them civilians. Deaths would continue over the following days, months, and years due to radiation poisoning from the explosions. Aboard the U.S.S. Missouri on September 2, 1945, Japanese government representatives signed documents officially ending the war. Each day, important in U.S. and world history, became dates of great celebration known as "Victory-Japan Day" or "V-J Day."

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