Exclusive Tour Of The National WWII Memorial - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

04/29/04 - Washington, D.C.

Exclusive Tour Of The National WWII Memorial

Nearly 59 years after the end of World War II, those involved in the war effort are finally being recognized, nationally. Today, the first ever, WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. opened. It's taken almost two decades to honor, not only those on the front lines but, the entire WWII generation, called "our greatest generation." KLTV 7 News takes you to our nation's capital to give you an exclusive look of the memorial, still in the making. We were given a private tour before it was even open to the public.

The year was 1941. The beginning of World War II. Some of the biggest conflicts in our history followed. It all ended in 1945, but not without much bloodshed and heartache. Almost 6 decades later the first national memorial, acknowledging the commitment and achievement of the entire nation, is ready for visitors.

"The veterans were really very patriotic. They went overseas. They did their duty. They came back and they went about their daily lives. They never asked for a memorial. As soon as they asked for one in 1986, we began the process of building it for them," explains Betsy Glick, WWII Memorial Spokesperson.

The memorial was authorized by Congress in 1993. After selecting a design, from 400 entries, construction began in September 2001. Glick says, "Ultimately we were granted permission to use the central axis on the mall because of the significance of the WWII and a defining moment of our country.

Many of the 500 workers have been on site since day one, and they wouldn't have it any other way. "I'm an American down to the roots. It's a privilege and an honor," says Tim McElwain, an Electrician working on the memorial. Allen Fulcheo, another worker adds, "From the electrician to the carpenters, they took pride in their work. You know, building something like this is special. It means a lot.  It means a lot."

For many of the WWII Memorial workers it's personal. "I chose to come here. I have relatives, my grandfather and my Uncles, who fought in WWII. It was one of the things I felt like I wanted to do and needed to do for them. So, I left another job to come here for this," says Patrick Bizzell, Master Electrician at the WWII Memorial. McElwain agrees saying, "My great grandfather served in World War One and Two so this is a good feeling for me to be here."

The memorial was funded almost entirely by private donations bringing in $193-million. The site covers 7 1/2 acres; the actual plaza with the memorial is just over two acres.

It's constructed of bronze and granite; 17 million pounds of granite. There is a ceremonial entrance recognizing each of the militaries service branches.

Inside, to the north and south stand two 43-foot arches, representing the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters. Each contains 4 bronze columns with four bronze eagles adorning the top. In their beaks, a ribbon holding up a laurel wreath, the symbol of victory.

In the center is the rainbow pool, which existed before the memorial was built. It has been restored. On the far side behind the rainbow pool, is an area called "The Freedom Wall." It's a field of 4000 sculpted gold stars. Each star represents 100 lives lost in the war.

Along the edges, stand 56 pillars representing the US states, territories and the District of Columbia at the time of the war. Each pillar is adorned with two sculpted bronze wreaths.

The WWII Memorial is flanked on either side by two other popular memorials. "You have the Washington Monument which represents the time of the creation of our nation, the Revolutionary War. And, you also have the Lincoln Memorial which is the Civil War which was about preserving our nation. What more fitting place for WWII then the event that really saved the entire world from tyranny than in the center of those two monuments," says Glick.

Throughout the memorial there are inscriptions, carefully selected words. "I designed all of the inscriptions and worked with the design committee three years ago setting all of this up and then we got busy carving all the inscriptions starting last June," says Nick Benson, owner of John Stevens Shop.

Benson says some of his most powerful interaction while working on the WWII Memorial has been from veterans peering through the fence. Benson recalls one conversation with a veteran, "I said, 'Sir, where were you in World War II?' He said, 'The Battle of the Bulge.' I said, 'Wow, that's just amazing.' And he said, 'What are you doing here.' And I said, 'I've been here a while. It's been a long haul, but it's no Baston."

Although there's a lot of inscriptions in the granite, there's not an actual wall that lists all of the names of those involved in the war effort. At least not out on the plaza. But those involved are recognized inside a building right next to the memorial.

Everyone involved in the war effort is eligible to enroll on the WWII registry. Unlike other memorials, this one honors the entire generation including the 16 million who served in the US armed forces during WWII, the more than 400,000 who died and the millions who supported the war effort from home.

It's an impressive site, that took 2 and a half years to build. "We've got our own blood and sweat in here to build this. We're really proud of it. It's really come together nicely," says Bizzell. Fulcheo adds, "By being a part of something like this. This has changed my life."

And hopefully change the lives of those who come to site. Many say the WWII Memorial promises to become one of Washington's most visited sites, bringing back memories for veterans and a place to reflect and remember for their families.

The images of 1941-1945 may have faded with time, but the sacrifices will now live on forever at the national World War II Memorial in Washington, DC.

If you would like to add your name or your loved one's name to the WWII Registry, free of charge, go back to our home page and click on the "know more on 7." Then, go to the area titled "WWII Registry." Or, you can do it by calling the memorial at 1-800-639-4992. If you are planning a visit to the memorial keep this in mind, you can not actually register a name at the site, it has to be done by phone or on-line. Also, if you are planning a trip anytime this summer expect large crowds. There is going to be a citywide, summer long celebration in Washington, D.C. called "America Celebrates The Greatest Generation." It runs through Labor Day weekend. They expect 1-2 million people.

The actual dedication of the World War II Memorial is May 29th.

We will have much more from our exclusive tour of the WWII Memorial in the coming weeks on KLTV 7 News.

Gillian Sheridan, reporting.

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