The National 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 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.
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.
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. Water resistance was another important criterion. 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. “Mount Airy,” quarried in North Carolina, is the original coping stone of 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
- Rainbow Pool: 246’-9” long; 147’-8” wide
- 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
A series of bas-relief sculpture panels created by sculptor Ray Kaskey 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.
Atlantic Front Panels
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.
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.
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.
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.
Battle of the Atlantic
To hamper the transport of our 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.
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.”
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.
Tanks in Combat
Following the invasion of Normandy, allied and American troops launched operation “Cobra” breaking through German defenses. Tanks aided the infantrymen in the field and played an integral part in the “break-out” into France. The American M-4 “Sherman” inferior to many German tanks in armor and armament, proved to be highly successful due to its large production numbers.
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.
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 Russian armies finally met at the Elbe River. American troops there discovered how hard the war had been for Russia, finding women fighting in combat alongside men. The allied victory over Germany arrived twelve days later with its unconditional surrender.
Pacific Front Panels
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. 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.
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 our troops “over there.”
In order to assist our 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.
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. 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.
The United States, in order to liberate Japanese occupied territory throughout the Pacific and bring an end to the war, 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.”
©2019 Friends of the National World War II Memorial
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