The Memorial in Context

Fountain view

It is here, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where the United States proudly proclaims the continuity of our Union and protects the memories of those who have struggled to maintain and perfect it. The World War II Memorial occupies a place of honor along this central vista, and takes its rightful place among some of the great icons of American history. The memorial recognizes a period of unprecedented national unity during the defining moment of the twentieth century. Further, through its elements of stone, water, bronze, and words, the World War II Memorial strives to honor the service of more than sixteen million men and women in uniform, the contributions of countless millions on the home front, and the unforgettable sacrifice of 405,399 members of our Armed Forces.

The memorial is expansive in scale, yet humble enough not to overwhelm. It offers a grand stage on which to enact a national ritual of remembrance and celebration. Here, we pay tribute to members of the “greatest generation” who helped save a way of life and deliver freedom to parts of the world once dominated by hatred, war, suffering, and despair. Creating a memorial devoted to the service, commitment, and shared sacrifice of Americans, involved a great number of people and represented an enormous undertaking. Controversy swirled around the issues of placement, design, and content. The desire to tell every story imposed as a great a challenge and innumerable difficulties befell the supporters, commissions, agencies, architect, and builders; despite it all, they prevailed and a spectacular tribute now stands honoring Americans who helped win a world war.

Despite every effort of the designers to include all aspects of service during the Second World War, many more stories demand recognition and several acts of heroism and bravery deserve acknowledgement. The memorial already highlights in art and words the events of December 7, 1941, but this day demands our attention and our constant remembrance. The unprecedented roles that women played in this conflict jump out at us from inspirational words and works of bronze, but we need to know more about them. We cannot forget the forced relocation and confinement of Americans of Japanese ancestry. We cannot skirt controversy and must remember the debates over how to confront a holocaust within Axis-controlled parts of Europe and over whether to use a lethal, new weapon—and, if so, where and when. Aspects of these essential stories find expression here in Washington at several memorials, museums, and historic sites.

We invite you to learn more about the Second World War and our shared American experience. We encourage you to visit other National Park Service sites here in Washington, D.C., such as Murrow Park and the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II, as well as other World War II related sites throughout the National Park System.

Last updated: May 21, 2020

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