Nearly 59 years after the end of World War II, the National World War II Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, May 29, 2004.
The dedication of the memorial was the culmination of an 11-year effort that started when the memorial was authorized by Congress on May 25, 1993. Construction began September 4, 2001, after several years of fund raising and public hearings. The memorial opened to the public on April 29, 2004.
The dedication celebration spanned four days and included a WWII-themed reunion exhibition on the National Mall staged in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, a service of celebration and thanksgiving at the Washington National Cathedral, and an entertainment salute to WWII veterans from military performing units.
Four-Day Tribute to a Generation Celebration Draws Hundreds of Thousands to the National Mall
A four-day celebration from May 27 through May 30, 2004, featured the dedication of the National World War II Memorial, and paid tribute to the service and sacrifice of America's World War II generation. The Tribute to a Generation events included wartime reminiscences, reunions, big band and swing music, WWII memorabilia and equipment displays, a religious service, military ceremonial units, and educational opportunities for all ages.
More than 150,000 people turned out Saturday, May 29, 2004, for the dedication ceremony on the National Mall. Two hours of lively pre-ceremony entertainment began at noon, taking attendees back to the wartime era through music, video images, newsreel clips, and reminiscences of the time. Postmaster General John E. Potter and John F. Walsh of the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a new postage stamp depicting the World War II Memorial. Remarks by Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur followed, along with a video chronicling the creation of the memorial.
The formal dedication ceremony began at 2 p.m. with a presentation of state flags and an invocation by Archbishop Philip M. Hannan, a World War II Chaplain. General P. X. Kelley, U.S. Marine Corps (ret.), chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission, welcomed attendees to the event. Notable speakers followed, including:
- Tom Brokaw, news anchor and author
- Tom Hanks, national spokesman for the World War II Memorial Campaign
- Senator Bob Dole, national chairman of the World War II Memorial Campaign
- Frederick W. Smith, national co-chairman of the World War II Memorial Campaign
Following the speeches, a Marine bugler performed taps inside the memorial. Gen. Kelley then presented the World War II Memorial to President George W. Bush, who received the memorial on behalf of the American people. President Bush noted that it is "a fitting tribute, open and expansive, like America; grand and enduring, like the achievements we honor." The ceremony concluded with Denyce Graves leading The National Anthem and God Bless America. Dr. Barry C. Black, chaplain of the U.S. Senate, offered the closing benediction. Click on underlined names to read speeches.
National World War II Reunion
The Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in partnership with ABMC organized the National World War II Reunion. The reunion drew an estimated 315,000 people over four days, from May 27 through May 30.
Activities of the reunion included:
- Reunion Hall – A central gathering place for all World War II generation members attending the dedication celebration.
- Two large performance pavilions where guests heard the live sounds of big band, swing and other music from the WWII era.
- Wartime Stories Tent - Narrative sessions, interviews and workshops on a variety of topics, and chats with prominent WWII veterans.
- Veterans History Project Tent - The Veterans History Project at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress presented interviews, speakers and exhibits that showcased first-hand accounts of those who served in uniform and on the home front. Library of Congress representatives also provided information and workshops on how to write, record, audio/videotape and preserve personal histories.
- Preserving Memories – Experts from the National Archives, the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress advised veterans and their families on how best to preserve the documents, scrapbooks, photos, medals and memorabilia from WWII.
- Building the Memorial – This pavilion featured an exhibition on the planning and building of the memorial.
- Veterans Services – Representatives from Veterans Affairs, other federal agencies and other veterans service organizations were on hand to provide information on veterans’ resources and benefits that are available.
- Family Activities – Children of all ages engaged in hands-on activities relating to the WWII period.
- Military Equipment Display – Throughout the Reunion site were displays of military artifacts and equipment.
Salute to World War II Veterans
The armed forces ceremonial and musical units stationed in Washington, D.C. staged an entertainment salute to all WWII veterans. Talented members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard performed. Four two hour performances were held at the MCI Center, a large indoor arena in downtown Washington, D.C.
A Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving
An interfaith service was held Saturday, May 29, at 10 a.m. at the Washington National Cathedral. This service celebrated the dedication of the memorial and remembered those who made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II. Military and civilian clergy, as well as WWII dignitaries, participated in the service at the cathedral known as A National House of Prayer for all People.
- General John W. Vessey, U.S. Army (Retired), former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
- General P. X. Kelley, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired), Chairman, American Battle Monuments Commission
- President George H.W. Bush
The National World War II Memorial 10th Anniversary Commemoration is co-hosted by the Friends of the National World War II Memorial and the National Park Service.
The event is generously sponsored by DAV (Disabled American Veterans), Target, FedEx Corporation, and Pepco Holdings, Inc.
Support also was provided by the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation, Expeditors International of Washington, Inc., and Worthington Industries.