WWII Veterans Honored for Sacrifice, Service
Washington Post Staff Reports
Saturday, May 29, 2004; 6:04 PM
Thousands of veterans of World War II gathered on the Mall today to dedicate a memorial to their sacrifice and service, dancing to popular swing songs, standing solemnly for military music and prayers and tearfully recalling comrades who had fallen on the battlefield -- and in the decades since the war ended.
Speaking at the ceremony to formally open the National World War II Memorial, President Bush praised those it honored. "When it mattered most, an entire generation of Americans showed the finest qualities of our nation and of humanity," he said.
The new memorial, which is located on the Mall between the Lincoln and Washington memorials, "will stand as long as America itself," Bush said.
Today's dedication ceremony marked the culmination of an effort that began in 1987, when legislation was introduced to create the $175 million memorial. "It has taken too long to erect this monument," said NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw, the author of a best-selling book about the war whose title, "The Greatest Generation," was cited throughout the day.
About 150,000 were expected to attend the ceremony, which began at 2 p.m. The event -- the country's largest organized gathering of surviving veterans in 60 years -- made for "emotional day," said James Walters, 82, of Ocala, Fla., who came to see the memorial with his son. Walters, who was taken prisoner by German forces in June 1944 after leading a platoon onto the beaches of Normandy, rejected the label hero.
"The heroes are left on the beaches and the fields," he said. "We're just the ones who made it back. The heroes are all dead."
With a guest list that included presumed Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry and former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, security was tight, with attendees seated in sections nearest the stage required to pass through screening stations and metal detectors.
The daylong series of events began this morning with an interfaith service at the Washington National Cathedral, where former president Bush welcomed a "great generation of Americans" to the capital of the country they served and saved.
Former president Bush, whose Navy plane was shot down in the western Pacific in 1944, honored his fellow veterans, but also reminded his listeners that today's military personnel are fighting a new breed of "fanatic leaders" worldwide who are seeking to destroy the freedom Americans hold so dear. He asked for prayers not only for those who fought and died in World War II, but for the men and women "laying their lives on the line to keep us free and safe."
"The scope of World War II may have been greater, but the anxiety and the pain is no greater," Bush said in his remarks to several hundred veterans, family members, congressional leaders, which were simulcast on large screens on the Mall and in the MCI Center. "We look forward with renewed faith and courage that America's best days are yet to be."
The intense security around the new memorial provided a constant reminder of today's threats. Following last night's rush hour, officials shut down 17th Street between Constitution and Independence avenues, closing much of the Mall to vehicular traffic for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Security guards lined the fences that surrounded the ceremony's main stage near 17th Street, and helicopters ran regular routes overhead. Armed guards monitored nearby Metro stations. The U.S. Coast Guard and D.C. Harbor Patrol prepared to guard the Potomac River, and U.S. Capitol Police officers expanded their program of random vehicle checks.
Officials encouraged ticketed attendees to take shuttle buses to get to the three seating sections for the event. The shuttles were running from the Metro Center, Smithsonian, Farragut West and L'Enfant Plaza Metro stations. But the heavy security delayed some shuttle buses.
After idling for nearly half an hour on one bus, the reason for the delay rolled by: a Washington motorcade. "It's one of the important people," said shuttle driver Sharmel Lyles.
"Can't you tell them there are important people here?" retorted Sue Spaulding of Derwood, Md.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company