Welcome Message from Ambassador Williams
May 24, 2014
As a former member of the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) and as one of the founders of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial, it is a distinct pleasure to welcome you to our Website as we approach the Memorial’s 10th Anniversary. I have been asked to share with you a bit of the history of the Memorial along with some of my personal observations and reflections on its lasting historical significance.
I begin by saying that the WWII Memorial is today a wonderful success story. Since its dedication in 2004 it has been quietly taking its place as one of the nation’s historic icons on the National Mall with growing warm public acceptance and acclaim from all quarters and especially from WWII Veterans It is becoming in a way, Washington’s village square, the town green on the Mall, a place for silent solemn remembrance, a place to linger, to stroll, to talk, to listen, to share memory and meaning.
Today the Memorial is among the most heavily visited Memorial in all of Washington, day and night. The Park Service estimates that visitors now exceed 4 million a year and the numbers are on the rise. This fulfills the expectations of the ABMC who recommended and championed the Rainbow Pool site on the National Mall’s glorious open east-west axis. A location unmatched in its awesome beauty, visual grandeur and historic surroundings.
Since its opening the Memorial has become a “must” destination for visitors coming from all over the country and even from abroad. Friends is especially concerned with students. They come on middle and high school class tours in the tens and tens and tens of thousands to the Memorial, some with their bands for mini concerts. For some students, their visits will be the first and their last exposure to this national remembrance of the War. In an effort to enrich their experience, Friends has a teachers outreach program with lesson plans on WWII history and its Memorial available to all on its website. Further, wanting to reach and involve the young, a Friends intergenerational project in underway, called Capturing the Voices of WWII. Trained high school and other students interview and video WWII Veterans visiting the Memorial, recording and preserving their voices and stories for posterity. With the inevitable passage of time this project will take on added urgency and importance.
For Veterans of WWII, the Memorial is a special destination, a rendezvous, a mecca of sorts, a gathering place for reunions, and a last hurrah as their numbers dwindle. The nationally acclaimed Honor Flight program with its national hubs and other like local community initiatives, continue to bring thousands of WWII Veterans by air to Washington, some proudly wearing their old and partial uniforms and some in wheelchairs. There they see “THEIR” MEMORIAL. In person they sense its presence and meaning, they reminisce, revel in the company of fellow G.I’s, and are made to feel remembered, saluted and honored. These highly emotional, moving, heart-lifting occasions at the Memorial, give life and meaning to the words “a grateful nation remembers”.
Official WWII commemorative and celebratory wreath laying events at the Memorial are held throughout the year. As the National Park Service’s private partner for the WWII Memorial, Friends has the lead responsibility for planning and staging these events. They include Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Also three special WWII events: December 7 Pearl Harbor, May 8 Victory Europe and September 2 Victory Pacific. Friends also honors and remembers at the Memorial names that still resonate, Guadalcanal, Midway, Anzio, D-Day Omaha Beach, Saipan, Battle of the Bulge, Iwo Jima to cite a few. Band concerts sponsored by Friends also brings patriotic music to the Memorial for people to enjoy on warm summer evenings.
I turn my thoughts now to the Memorial itself, its location and its symbolism. I agree with many who have said that the glory of the Memorial is its location. From its ceremonial entrance and through out the Memorial, visitors can see before them and in the distance, three centuries of American history. To the east down the Mall’s greensward, one sees the white dome of the Capitol, closer the towering Washington Monument and to the west, down the Reflecting Pool, the Lincoln Memorial in all its majestic glory.
The Capitol and the Washington Monument represent America’s defining event of the 18th century, the Revolutionary War, the Constitution and the Founding of the Nation. Lincoln the Civil War and saving the Union, mark the defining event of the 19th century. Now nestled between Washington and Lincoln the WWII Memorial stands as the singular most important event of the 20th century. WWII was indeed a pivotal and momentous event, marking the emergence of the United States as a global power, and the leader of the free world. It was a moment in American history which in profound ways, changed forever the face of American life and the direction of world history. It was no ordinary time.
Symbols are important to all Memorials. By design they are built into all of the WWII Memorial’s principal design elements, its granite vertical architecture, its bronze iconography and its carved words in stone. The two symbols which I believe are the most important are singled out for special attention.
First NATIONAL UNITY. Those who entered the national open design competition were advised by ABMC the client, that the National WWII Memorial was intended to “stand for all time as a symbol of national unity”, that the Memorial was to be “a timely reminder of the moral strength and awesome power that can flow when a free people are at once united and bonded in a common and just cause.” This clear message is symbolized by the taut, strong, sculpted, interwoven bronze ropes which encircle and bind together the tall granite structures which surround and enclose the Memorial. These pillars, the States and Territories bound together by the bronze ropes stand as one, as a sign of national unity. E·PLURIBUS·UNUM. Out of many one, our national motto.
Finding the right symbol for SACRIFICE was an important design challenge. How to remember our war dead in WWII with reverence, honor and dignity. Names are important. The names of all who did not come home from WWII including the missing, are engraved on the headstones and on the Memorial Walls near where they fell in ABMC’s beautiful WWII Cemeteries in Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific. The names of those who were returned home for burial are engraved in America’s National Cemeteries or in family plots and village monuments across the land.
Space limitation did not permit honoring and naming them all at the WWII Memorial. They are however remembered symbolically by the three-dimensional hand sculpted Gold Stars embedded in the Memorial’s Freedom Wall. The Gold Stars stand one by one, row on row each representing 100 names, 100 sacrifices, 4,006 Gold Stars in all, symbolizing the names of 406,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and others, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine. Most of the fallen were in the early Springtime of their lives. If these silent stars could speak Archibald McLeish would have them say, “We leave you our deaths, give them their meaning”.
Looking back on how the Memorial came into being, I would if I could, like to give the Memorial a public face, recognizing and paying tribute to the many who played key critical roles, in its evolving story from inception to construction to dedication. They are fully deserving of public recognition but far too many to do justice to in this forum. I would nevertheless like to single out three names for special tribute. Marcy Kaptur, Friedrich St. Florian, and the late J. Carter Brown.
Marcy Kaptur is the longest serving women Representative in the House. She has often been called, figuratively speaking, “the Mother of the World War II Memorial”. She deserves this accolade. It was Marcy Kaptur who played the critical role in moving the World War II Memorial legislation through the Congress with great skill and persistence, first the House and then an assist in the Senate. Since the passage of the Bill in 1993, Congresswomen Kaptur has remained the Memorial’s strongest champion on the Hill. During the location and design approval battles, her strong and passionate voice was heard at one hearing after another. Later after the Memorial’s dedication, she saw the need and encouraged the establishment of Friends of the National WWII Memorial and has provided wise counsel to the organization ever since. Her deep devotion to the Veterans of WWII is legendary. She has never turned down an invitation to honor them at the WWII Memorial or in her hometown in Ohio. In many ways, Marcy Kaptur’s name is synonymous with and will always be associated with The National WWII Memorial.
Friedrich St. Florian. It has been said that the WWII Memorial in many ways reflects the character of its designer Friedrich St. Florian. He is a quiet man full of grace and dignity, a man of vision and great talent, artistic in nature, a scholarly man, a student and teacher of architecture. An Austrian by birth having witnessed WWII as a boy, Friedrich is now a long time American citizen by choice. Believing strongly in the American cause he had a deep emotional commitment to finding a final design, worthy of the event and its sacrifices. This commitment was readily apparent to all. As an entrant in the open design competition he became immersed in the history of the War and the National Mall. One of the reasons he won the design competition was his keen sensitivity to the Rainbow Pool’s historic and classical surroundings and the critical need to respect and preserve the sites open east west vista.
During the design stage his brilliant decision to lower and reduce slightly the size of the Rainbow Pool was a critical step. The elm trees and the historic elm walk around the Memorial’s outer perimeter were preserved. The newly designed surrounding vertical pillars and entry arches also gave the Memorial’s inner lower space an important, greater sense of enclosure and place. These decisions and St. Florian’s Gold Stars moved his full design forward to final approval. Modest to a fault, Friedrich is fully deserving of the praise that continues to come his way from his peers and from all who recognize and appreciate his magnificent architectural gift to the nation, one which honors WWII with dignity and strength while adding beauty and historical content to the long sweep of the National Mall.
I have saved J. Carter Brown’s name for last. The former Director of the National Gallery and as the long serving Chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts, seemingly forever, J. Carter Brown was Washington’s most highly renowned icon on all things cultural. Also it’s most influential voice on all decisions related to the Mall and Memorials. Once committed to ABMC’s recommended site, Carter became, from then on, the Rainbow Pool’s most ardent and eloquent champion. Without his support, his vote, his powerful influence it is highly doubtful that the WWII Memorial would be standing where it is today.
Turning to the design, while he was taken with the design’s original basic concept and promise, Carter throughout the long design phase was one of its most constructive critics. As in the case of location, in the end once the Fine Arts Commission formally voted to approve the St. Florian’s design in open hearing, Carter’s formidable influence helped clear the final hurdles leading to ground breaking in November 2000. From the very beginning he impressed every one with his passion about the lasting importance of the WWII Memorial to the nation. He felt that it had to be successful. After his retirement for health reasons, his consuming interest in the Memorial continued into the early days of its construction. I remember his calling me from his home with some last minute reminders such as “ the bronze ropes must be transparent”. Sadly Carter did not live to see it finished but he left behind his indelible mark on the WWII Memorial as he had on so many other objects of public art and memory on our National Mall. A man of aristocratic heritage, bearing and speech, he was also a common man in many ways, a true patriot, a great American.
I close with some words about Friends. It was founded by a few former members of the ABMC’s WWII Memorial’s Site and Design Committee. The purpose was to fill a real void, the need to seek private support to help the Park Service make the WWII Memorial all it was designed and intended to be. It was built 10 years ago as a result of an enthusiastic national outpouring of private contributions from School rooms to Board rooms, resembling in a way WWII War Bond Drives. Since its founding, generous support from corporate sponsors and other donors has underwritten Friends efforts to date. Today if the promise of the Memorial’s place in the life of the nation is to be fully realized, continuing sustained private support is a must. It is the hope of Friends that the celebration of the Memorial’s first 10 years will heighten public appreciation and understanding of this vital need. To the viewers of our Website, I hope you will enjoy your visits to the Memorial and your participation in its various planned events.
Thank you and best wishes,
Ambassador F. Haydn Williams
Chairman, ABMC’s WWII Memorial Site and Design Committee
Chairman Emeritus, Friends of the National World War II Memorial
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.