on March 31, 2012
I am the grateful daughter of a World War II veteran. My father fought his way through the battlefields of Europe as an armored infantryman during the last months of the war. He had the medals and the nightmares to prove it. For many years, those in a position to make decisions about a national memorial to honor those who fought this war delayed their final decision as to what it would look like and where it would be located. In the end, the decision was a political one—made by the Bush (the younger) administration to situate the memorial on the National Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.Then, and even now, I thought the decision was poorly made. At one time or another, it went against the recommendations of nearly all those in a position to offer advice of that sort—including the National Parks Service and various veterans groups. Many believed the new monument would detract from the aura of the National Mall as it then existed. Others felt that only this most prominent of Mall locations was good enough for the nation’s World War II vets and for those who fell. The length and acrimony of the debate continued as designs for the memorial were considered. Some felt that nothing could be too grand, while others felt that simple dignity was in order. Much of the time, it was not what my grandmother would have called a ‘seemly’ dialogue.In the end, grand and decorous won out over simple and dignified. The new memorial was designed by Friedrich St. Florian, an Austrian-born architect. It consists of 56 upright granite pillars resembling steles, 2 tower-like pavilions facing one another (for the Atlantic and Pacific theaters) across a large oval plaza, complete with fountains and as much symbolism as one could wish—for the states and territories, for major battles, for those who died, and for those who sacrificed on the home front. One prominent feature, the Freedom Wall, includes 4,048 large three-dimensional gold stars on a ‘Freedom Wall’—one star for each 100 Americans who fell during the war.The main entrance to the memorial faces the Washington Monument. It is flanked on both sides by American flags and leads down to the plaza and fountains by means of a wide terraced stairway. This entrance to the mem is bordered with bas-relief bronze panels depicting various aspects of the war. The two side entrances for the memorial are through the square pavilions at the long end of the oval plaza. Bronze eagles and wreaths decorate the interior space of the towers. The oval plaza includes a shallow pool with two large fountains and an oval ring of slender waterspouts just inside the outer edge of the pool.Himself and Yours Truly have visited the memorial several times since it was completed in 2004, and we have seen it in all its seasons. It is a staple on our tour of DC for visiting friends and family. I confess to a wide and mixed set of responses to this grand piece of architecture—including (but by no means limited to) a jumble of gratitude, indignation, curiosity, inspiration, and exasperation. I am grateful for and indebted to the veterans who are the reason for this grand monument. Without their sacrifice, the United States and our lives as its citizens would almost certainly be less than they are. But try as I might, I can’t like the result of this long-delayed expression of thanks. It is too grand and too reminiscent of socialist and Teutonic architecture to rest easily within my consciousness. Also I know that, push come to shove, my father and his buddies were simple men who did their duty as they saw it. I don’t think that he or they (well, most of them) would be comfortable with the ostentatiousness of this monument. They would not, in my opinion, feel very comfortable with it. In my heart of hearts, I believe they would have wanted sometime a bit simpler—something they could have taken comfort from.Sadly, by the time the World War II Memorial was completed, most of the veterans, including my father, had died. Our national thanks to these warriors was delayed too long, and the grandness of the gesture is thus lost on them. All this aside, I am the grateful daughter of a World War II veteran. Thank you, Daddy, for your service and the sacrifices you made.
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