Today in American History: April 29, 2004

Today in American History: April 29, 2004

On this day in 2004, the World War II Memorial officially opened in our capital, Washington, D.C. Thousands of visitors could now come to recognize the 16 million American men and women who served in the war. The memorial was chosen to be placed at the former site of the Rainbow Pool on 7.4 acres at the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The Capitol dome can be seen to the east of it, and Arlington Cemetery is not far, just west across the Potomac River.

The monument is made from granite and bronze and features fountains between arches that symbolize the hostilities in Europe and the Far East. The arches are flanked by more than 50 pillars, one for each state, territories and the District of Columbia. Beyond the pool there's a curved wall with 4,000 gold stars. There's one for every 100 Americans killed during the war. There's also an Announcement Stone that describes that the memorial honors those “Americans who took up the struggle during the Second World War and made the sacrifices to perpetuate the gift our forefathers entrusted to us: A nation conceived in liberty and justice.”

The government donated $16 million to help build the memorial, but the majority of the funds came from private donations. It took more than $164 million to complete the project. The most vocal supporters of the memorial were former Kansas Senator Bob Dole, who had been severely wounded during the war, and actor Tom Hanks. Only a small fraction of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II would ever get to see it. When the memorial was completed there were four million World War II veterans still living, and more than 1,100 dying each day.

The memorial was inspired by a man named Roger Durbin who was from Berkey, Ohio. He had served under General George S. Patton during the war. In February of 1987, Durbin asked U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur why there wasn't a memorial in the capital to honor World War II veterans. Kaptur, who was a Democrat from Ohio, quickly introduced legislation to start building one. The process would drag on for 17 years and faced legal, legislative, and artistic snags along the way. Unfortunately, Durbin died of pancreatic cancer in 2000 before the memorial could be completed.

During a ceremony the monument was formally dedicated May 29, 2004, by U.S. President George W. Bush. 

I had the honor of visiting the memorial, most recently in 2018, with Cooper and Wes while Wes was working in the White House. 

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