District, tourism and business officials yesterday announced what they called a 100-day regional tribute to the World War II generation that will kick off the week before Memorial Day and go into high gear with the dedication of the National World War II Memorial.
The approximately 140 events, dubbed "America Celebrates the Greatest Generation," include exhibitions, performances, lectures, walking tours, restaurant offers and hotel packages throughout the Washington area. The tribute will begin May 27 with the American Battle Monuments Commission's official dedication events for the memorial and end Labor Day, Sept. 6.
It is, said William A. Hanbury, president of the Washington, DC Convention and Tourism Corp., "the largest cultural tourism effort ever in this region."
The programs vary widely. There is the Corcoran Gallery of Art's display of Norman Rockwell's famous paintings that illustrate the four basic freedoms promoted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his 1941 State of the Union address; a discussion of Mexican American military heroes at the National Archives; and a talk at the University of Maryland by surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American military pilots. There is a USO weekend in Alexandria with a band concert, some World War II-era musical performances and a swing dance, and interviews with some of the former members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
A complete schedule of events, some charging admission, can be found online at www.americasgreatestgeneration.com or at www.washington.org (click on the "America Celebrates the Greatest Generation" link). An official guide is available from the offices of the Washington, DC Convention and Tourism Corp. and Cultural Tourism DC.
Officials announced the tribute at the headquarters of the American Red Cross, which, during the war, was the epicenter of the nation's largest volunteer effort to support the military. The effort peaked with 7.5 million volunteers in a single year during the war and included more than 40,000 paid staff members, said Steven E. Shulman, executive director of the historical resources department of the American Red Cross.
That contribution -- from collecting blood to transmitting millions of soldiers' and sailors' messages to friends and family; from knitting socks to preparing bandages and serving the coffee and doughnuts at canteens here and overseas -- is commemorated in a temporary exhibit through early fall at the American Red Cross Museum, 1730 E St. NW. The exhibit is called "Volunteering for Victory."
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) dubbed the series of events a prime opportunity for tourists to explore the Washington area beyond what he called "the greatest public space in the world: the National Mall."
D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) agreed, saying that while the focus is to commemorate World War II and honor its veterans, "we're also providing an opportunity for people to see the District of Columbia, for people to see the beauty of not only our monuments, but the beauty of the people who live in this city and make this city what it is."
Kathryn S. Smith, executive director of Cultural Tourism DC, said the effort to offer thematic programming through the summer is being coordinated by 130 cultural organizations across the region.
"This is a collaboration of unprecedented scope," she said. "We've pulled together cultural museums from all over, which hadn't happened before."
She said the tribute also commemorates the Washington area as the center of the U.S. war effort, where the rise of the defense industry drew thousands of workers and sparked a building flurry of dormitories and houses in the 1940s. The District's population peaked at 800,000 in 1950 as a result, Smith said.
"We're celebrating our veterans," she said, "but we're also celebrating America and we're also celebrating Washington, D.C."