WHAT IS IT? Three Memorials to war veterans located in the central portion of the National Mall and Memorial Parks.
BEAUTY (4/10) It is a bad sign when a memorial’s most glowing praise is “well, it’s not as bad and disruptive as I’d thought it would be.” Such is the fate of the new-kid-on-the-mall National World War II Memorial. After it was opened to the public in April of 2004, architecture magazines and editorial pages lambasted the design with critical glee. Some even stated that the Memorial’s overwrought marble columns and ostentatious pomp better recalled the defeated fascists than any American dream.
The WWII Memorial reminded us of a universally-panned but highly successful blockbuster film. Despite the critics’ strong judgments, the masses love them both and visit in droves. They both cost a lot to make, in the WWII Memorial’s case: $184 Million. They both evoke only visceral reactions and have zero emotional or educational depth. Both leave you with the nagging question of was it really worth all the money spent? But in the end, you accept the mediocrity and enjoy the loudness, the size, the bad script and the astounding special effects.
The John Paul Jones Memorial and the District of Columbia War Memorial are two humble and somewhat hidden remembrances located nearby. Admiral Jones is remembered with a steadfast bronze likeness while D.C.’s World War I vets are honored with a small Doric temple.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10) The generation of Americans that helped defeat Nazi Germany deserved a stellar monument and remembrance as well as a place on the National Mall. However, the Congressional decision to place the Memorial between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument certainly ruffled a lot of feathers. People feared for the sightlines and some were angry at the removal of such a large amount of public space.
Is the World War II Memorial worthy of the soldiers who fought and the millions who sacrificed on the home front and armed a nation? Is the Memorial a fitting tribute? Well, it doesn’t disturb the vistas as much as people thought it would. What else can you say? It is there and it is not going away. We were a little bothered by its inelegance, its over-the-top superficiality and its elephantine proportions. Especially because we attach none of those traits to the generation it aims to honor. Could the Memorial have been better? Absolutely, yes, but then again it could have been a lot worse.
CROWDS (8/10) The crowds’ general excitement was the best part of the Memorial. Everybody wants to see something new. Our favorite guests were the nine ducklings who had congregated nearby the wall of 4080 gold stars’ reflecting pool. We think they enjoyed the attention.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5) D.C. Metro stops are not particularly kind to the Monuments located in West Potomac Park. The nearest station is Smithsonian, almost ¾-mile walk from the WWII Memorial. The pleasant walk is no problem for the average tourist but older visitors and those with physical challenges might find the distance and oppressive D.C. summer heat to be troublesome.
Since there is no parking, the easiest way to visit is via the Tourmobile® Sightseeing buses. Your $20.00 per adult all day ticket drops you off in front of the WWII Memorial and every other National Mall-area attraction.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (1/5) No bookstore.
COSTS (4/5) 100% free.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5) There are a few Rangers posted in the nearby Park Ranger Station (located south of the Memorial) poised to answer questions.
TOURS/CLASSES (2/10) There are no exhibits and we saw no educational Ranger talks. The Memorial’s pillars and walls are filled with names of battles, bas relief depictions of the War, triumphant quotes and symbolic stars but no explanations and no contextualization of the pictures and words.
FUN (5/10) Most visitors entered the site with reverence equal to that required for the Vietnam or Korean War Veterans’ Memorials. Somber moods just couldn’t be sustained as kids searched the Memorial’s pillars to find the one that had their state’s name engraved on it or huddled around the ducklings waiting for the little ones to step into the pool. Folks soon realized that the fountains made for nice foregrounds in their photographs of the Capitol or Lincoln Memorial so there was a lot of posing concentrated in the center of the Memorial. The best part of the visit was soaking in the excitement and anticipation of everyone visiting D.C.’s newest monument.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (7/10) If you’re traveling to Washington, D.C. of course you’re going to come here. A walking circuit that includes the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and the Washington Monument is compulsory. The WWII Memorial is located smack dab in the middle of that tour. You couldn’t avoid it if you tried.
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