- Published: 04 March 2009 04 March 2009
WASHINGTON – It took nearly a half-century for those who fought in World War II to be remembered on the National Mall.
It took a little longer than that for veterans of another war to be all but forgotten.
In both cases, the story involves plenty of hard work, the recognition of heroes and the use of stone to last through the ages. It’s also a cautionary tale about making sure that something remains more than a memory when it comes to memorials.
The National World War II Memorial in Washington, set between the Lincoln and Washington Monuments, is an impressive piece of stonework. It’s a long-overdue tribute to those who fought for freedom; with leading lights such as actor Tom Hanks working for the cause, the memorial went from a dream to the reality of granite this spring.
Visitors to the new memorial will likely be drawn to two other important war tributes at the west end of of the mall: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Memorial. People will leave memorabilia and stop to consider the sacrifices made in defending our country.
All of that, including the requisite words of praise and honor, is part of the Washington experience. And some visitors, after viewing the World War II memorial, may wander down a side path at the Mall and come across something that, well, they didn’t expect. It’s not in many tour books, and it’s nearly impossible to find on any Website listing Washington places of interest.
But, there is it, a lonely granite temple that looks tiny next to any of the other edifices on the National Mall. It’s the District of Columbia War Memorial and – as far as war tributes are concerned in the nation’s capital – it predates them all.
The nearby Lincoln Memorial was brand-spanking new when the U.S. Congress authorized the D.C. War Memorial in 1924. According to Mark David Richards, a local author and political activist, the tribute to war service involved Washington power brokers and ordinary citizens alike. A memorial commission raised close to $200,000 (and that’s in 1920s value, not today’s) for the structure. The commission’s chair, Frank B. Noyes, also served as president of the company publishing the Evening Star (then regarded as the city’s leading paper) and the Associated Press. Nearly every social organization and large business helped in distributing pledge cards to residents.
School children chipped in a nickel each. Local labor unions held an exposition and fair to raise money. President Calvin Coolidge not only allowed the chief clerks of all federal departments to collect donations; he gave money himself and, despite being known as a man of very few words, actually said something to praise the fundraising efforts.
Marble for the memorial came from the Vermont Marble Co.’s quarry in Danby, Vt. The design called for a Doric temple, with a 40’ diameter base to hold the famed Marine Band for concerts. The names of the district’s residents to be honored were inscribed around the base.
Those 556 names also represented more than those dying in the service of their country. The names included women and African-Americans along with the roster of white males – a bold statement of equality for the United States of eight decades ago.
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