A 17-Year Campaign For a Lasting Tribute
Judy Scott Feldman, president of the coalition that opposed the memorial's design and location, takes a less rosy view of the completed project than do the veterans and most of the tourists. She said she is concerned that after the World War II generation is gone, the memorial will lose its personal connection for visitors.
The design is too cold, she said, and -- unlike the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, for example, with its roll call of names -- lacks features that will help subsequent generations identify with those who were involved in the conflict. It will stand as an imposing mass of concrete that fails to say anything meaningful about the World War II experience, Feldman argues.
"All the talk about building this for the veterans, that's really a red herring," she said. "You don't build a memorial for the living. What are the long-term prospects for this memorial?"
The memorial's supporters say that criticism of the column-ringed plaza is likely to diminish with the passing of time. The pattern with most major memorials in Washington, they note, has been that they attract vocal opposition in the planning and building stages but later are widely accepted and beloved.
The Lincoln Memorial, criticized for not representing American architectural styles, was finished 55 years after it was proposed. People tied themselves to trees to stop bulldozers from starting work on the Jefferson Memorial, complaining that it was another example of Greek architecture and would endanger the Mall's cherry trees.
The Washington Monument was finished almost 90 years after it was proposed and 40 years after its cornerstone was laid; builders altered its design after work started, scrapping plans for a broad base in favor of a more traditional obelisk. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was derided by critics as a bleak tombstone completely out of place on the Mall, then proved to be one of the city's most popular landmarks.
Many World War II veterans said they have no idea what future generations will take away from visits to the memorial.
Although it probably will not leave them with a full understanding of the war's significance, it might spur them to learn about it on their own by studying history books, some veterans said.
"I didn't get near enough history when I went to school back in the 1930s, so I had to get the rest on my own," said Omer E. McLaughlin, 81, of Fredericksburg. "Maybe they'll do the same."
Hubert B. Estes of Dayton, Va., said he hopes his great- grandchildren will look at the memorial and be inspired to follow his generation's example. "I hope they understand what it means, and I hope when we need them to do what we did, they're willing to do it," said Estes, 84.
Bill Johnson, 76, of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., said that along with the valor and victory celebrated in the memorial, he would like a message of sacrifice to come through. It was a time of both great triumph and great suffering, he said, and the suffering should not be forgotten.
"You better hope they remember that this was a world war, and hope they don't go through the same thing," Johnson said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company