National World War II Memorial

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Place Category: Attractions

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    Dedicated in 2004, the monument that honours America’s “Greatest Generation” is a grandiose affair on a 7.4-acre plot. Designed by Friedrich St Florian, it is a granite-heavy space dominated by the central Rainbow Pool, which is set between two 43ft triumphal arches, representing the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of war. Fifty-six wreath-crowned pillars represent the US states and territories (including the Philippines), while a bronze Freedom Wall displays 4,000 gold stars, each signifying 100 war dead. The ceremonial entrance, descending from 17th Street, passes bas-reliefs depicting events of the global conflict. A Circle of Remembrance garden off to the side fosters quiet reflection. A visitor kiosk and restrooms clutter the periphery.

    The memorial attracted controversy at the time of its inauguration, partly due to its location (the land is boggy enough to require pumping and, in addition, the monument breaks the sweep of the Mall), and partly because of its heavy neo-classical design, which prompted Der Spiegel to quip that to look at the monument, one would think that Hitler had won. However, the memorial’s apologia is engraved in granite at the 17th Street entrance, saying why those who defended freedom during World War II fully deserve their place between the heroes of the 18th (Washington) and 19th (Lincoln) centuries. To partly preserve the open vista, the memorial was sunk below street level.

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