WWII Memorial opens on Mall

World War II veterans who stormed the beaches of France and Italy will soon descend on D.C. to dedicate a memorial many have been waiting nearly 60 years to see.

The World War II Memorial, which is now complete and open to the public, will be officially dedicated Memorial Day weekend as part of a four-day celebration with events taking place throughout the city.

“It’s a long time past due,” American Legion Deputy Director Bill Pease said. “It needed to happen a long time ago because the people reflected on the completed memorial who it is honoring are becoming smaller each day. They have never asked for it; they have always been a very humble group of individuals.”

Victoria Isley, vice president of marketing for the D.C. Convention and Tourism Corporation, said officials expect about 800,000 people to visit the city over the course of Memorial Day weekend. GW is scheduled to hold a World War II commemorative ceremony on June 6, the anniversary of D-Day, which was the date the Allies invaded France in 1944.

Isley said her organization expects an additional million tourists coming to the District this summer, a season which typically attracts about five million visitors.

Pease predicted members of the World War II generation will visit the memorial throughout the month because all 117,000 tickets to the May 29 dedication ceremony have been distributed. The memorial, which stands between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument near 17th Street and Constitution Avenue, opened April 29.

George Chekan, president of Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Association, accompanied group members from Huntingtown, Md., to look at the memorial last week. The veterans from his regiment, the 9th Army Division, traveled through Africa, stormed Sicily and participated in the invasion of France. “We waited a long time for this,” he said. “It’s about time they had something for us. I hope the soldiers who are fighting right now don’t have to wait as long as we did.”

Standing in front of the fountains at the memorial’s center, Chekan, wearing his uniform and medals, said he overwhelmingly approved of the completed product.

“I think it’s probably the biggest memorial in the metropolitan area,” he said. “We were here during construction over a year ago. I’m impressed.”

Samuel Smith, a District resident, said his friends and family participated in World War II.

“It takes a long time to write history and do it correctly,” said Smith while visiting the memorial in April.

The memorial’s dedication ceremony will feature ’40s music, military bands and informational exhibits. Former Sen. Bob Dole, a decorated World War II veteran who also served as the national chairman of the memorial fundraising campaign, is scheduled to attend. Organizers have also sent an invitation to President Bush.

Construction of the memorial began in September 2001, but excessive rain nearly forced the project’s completion to be delayed. Workers were able to make up the missed days and completed the memorial earlier than expected and under budget, said Betsy Glick, the memorial’s communications director.

The total project cost $174 million, but the memorial raised $200 million in donations from corporations, veteran groups and schools. The government allocated $16 million at the beginning of the project to get the fundraising efforts started.

“The unused donations will be put into a trust fund and used for future non-routine maintenance and special events regarding the memorial,” Glick said.

The memorial features two arches to signify the Allies’ victory in the Atlantic and the Pacific theatres as well as 56 pillars surrounding a fountain to represent America’s states and territories at the time. A field of 4,000 gold stars on a wall honors the 400,000 Americans who lost their lives during the war.

“I think it fits perfectly between the Lincoln and the Washington Monument,” said D.C. resident John Haylock, who visited the memorial in April. “It doesn’t impose, and it’s open enough so that you can clearly see the other memorials.”

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