WASHINGTON (AP) The National World War II Memorial is nearing completion ahead of schedule. The monument to a generation also will cost less than the $194 million budgeted for the project, officials said.
"It was the watershed event of the 20th century," said Friedrich St. Florian, the architect of the 7.4 acre (3 ha) project. The gray granite plaza’s water fountains are now flowing, and landscape crews are busy planting trees and shrubs in preparation for its first public visitors.
Fifty-six granite pillars representing the 48 states, seven U.S. protectorates and territories, and the District of Columbia lift bronze laurel wreaths toward the sky. A field of 4,000 gold stars mounted on a curved granite slab represent the 425,000 U.S. military war dead and the sacrifices of American families.
Twenty-four bronze sculptured panels depicting activities and events characteristic of the war effort at home and abroad are expected to be installed by the end of this week. They depict the landing on France’s Normandy Beachhead, women in military service and as civilians involved in aircraft construction, war bond drives, the liberation of Europe and victory over Japan.
The total cost of the memorial is now estimated at $172 million.
"This is not a healing memorial, but a memorial that recalls, perhaps, the nation’s finest hour," said St. Florian. Besides honoring the 16 million men and women who served in uniform during the war, the monument is also a testimony to the civilian war effort, and the role American industry played in the defeat of tyranny.
"This is a magnificent tribute to the World War II generation," said Barry Owenby, an American Battle Monuments Commission project executive. Inscriptions on huge granite slabs include excerpts from wartime speeches of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, generals Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur and George C. Marshall, and Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby, the first director of the U.S. Women’s Army Corps.
Although the monument won’t be formally dedicated until May 29, officials hope to have the facility open the last week of April.
The decision to open the facility several weeks before the Memorial Day weekend dedication was made in part because World War II-era veterans are dying at a rate of 1,200 per day, according to General P.X. Kelly, chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Kelly, who once served as commandant of the Marine Corps, said construction crews are also completing work on accommodations for the disabled and safety and comfort facilities.