World War II Memorial to open to public

After 17 years of planning and over two years of construction, the World War II Memorial on the mall in Washington, D.C., is set to open this month, and will be dedicated during a Memorial Day ceremony May 29.

The memorial, which is approximately the size of a football field, lies between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The outer ring of the memorial is composed of 56 granite columns, which represent each state and U.S. territory in 1945. In the far ends of the oval two 43-foot-high arches represent the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of the war. On a far wall, 4,000 gold stars are embedded in granite, each star commemorating 100 Americans who died in WWII.

For many of the 500 construction workers and project supervisors, building the monument has been a project of pride. During construction, a fence has surrounded the site. But as the arches were built and the columns installed, tourists started to peek through and ask about the memorial.

“I know I’ll never do anything like this again,” project executive Barry Owenby told the Washington Post. “My dad is a veteran of World War II, and he calls me every week and asks, ‘How’s my memorial doing?’ It’s the same for a lot of people on this project. You can just tell by the looks on their faces that this is not just another construction job.”

Project manager Kenneth J. Terry says the memorial has a special meaning for most of the people working on the project because, even though they didn’t fight in WWII, most have fathers or grandfathers who fought in the war. Before Terry’s grandfather, who fought in the war, died last month, he was able to show him the unfinished memorial. Logan Craig, who oversaw the installation of the site’s utilities, also got to show his father-in-law, a WWII veteran, the site before he died last year.

With WWII veterans dying at a rate of approximately 1,100 a day, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission, workers have been rushing to get the memorial completed quickly. Plans to build the memorial were originally proposed in Congress in 1987, but because of strict guidelines for buildings on the Washington’s mall, the project was stalled. Construction began August 27, 2001.

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Since the end of March, construction crews have been scurrying around the site trying to make sure lights are wired, roads are paved and fountains are in operation before the memorial is opened to the public. The memorial is expected to open sometime this week, although an official date has not been announced. The date has been pushed back weekly since the beginning of April.