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World War II Memorial comes into full view this week

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) The 4,000 gold stars glitter in the sunlight, representing the 407,316 Americans who died in World War II but, until now, have had no national shrine to salute them.

Now they do, as do their comrades who survived America's deadliest war.

The fences will come down around the World War II Memorial on the capital's National Mall this week, 17 years after it was suggested, 11 years after it was approved and three years after the bulldozers rolled in.

The memorial is a circle of tall granite columns with a pool, fountains and waterfalls set squarely between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The Capitol dome is in the distance to the east, the White House just beyond the treetops to the northwest.

Mike Conley, the associate executive director of the National World War II Memorial project, says the new memorial belongs among the Mall's "iconic landmarks of the major transitions in our history."

"It's very appropriate, very logical, very sequential to commemorate the most significant event of the 20th century on that same central axis," Conley said in an interview.

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The official dedication of the $175 million memorial - almost all the money raised from private donations - will take place on May 29, the start of the Memorial Day weekend. President Bush is expected. So are former Republican Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, a World War II hero who led the fund raising, and actor Tom Hanks, star of the World War II drama "Saving Private Ryan," who lent his public support.

The biggest group at the dedication will be one whose members are vanishing from the scene - veterans of World War II. More than 16 million served, and they're dying at a rate of more than 1,000 a day. By the time of the dedication, fewer than 4 million will be alive.

"My only disappointment is that so many of those who would have appreciated being able to see and visit the memorial are no longer with us," said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio.

Kaptur introduced bills to create the memorial four times between 1987 and 1993 before one became law.

"The longer time dragged on," Kaptur said, "the harder it became."

A veteran from her district, retired mail carrier Roger Durbin, first suggested the idea for a memorial. He became the soul of the project, but he died in 2000 at the age of 79.

"The biggest mistake the World War II Memorial office made was giving him their 800 number," Durbin's granddaughter, Melissa Growden, said with a chuckle. Growden is a member of the memorial advisory commission. "He called them every day. He was the voice behind this memorial. But his greatest fear became true. He did not live long enough to see it finished."

Durbin first raised the issue in 1987 at a political fish fry on the shores of Lake Erie. He stunned a roomful of Kaptur's hungry constituents by shouting: "Congresswoman Kaptur! Why is there no World War II memorial in Washington?"

Kaptur, who stopped dead in her tracks holding a plate of fish, turned and replied, with some confidence, "What about Iwo Jima?"

Durbin, an Army veteran of the German siege of Bastogne, Belgium, in 1944 to 1945, said the Iwo Jima memorial was for the Marines.

So they talked and Kaptur set to work. Once her bill passed and President Clinton signed it in 1993, years of lengthy fights began.

Critics said they weren't opposed to the memorial itself, but to interrupting the vista between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. They also said the Mall was getting too crowded.

Some found the original design too grandiose. Then there were miles of regulatory red tape from agencies and commissions that govern construction in the federal city. The issue even went to court.

Eventually, after several revisions, construction began three years ago.

"It's just amazing to be actually standing here when it originally was just an artist's rendering on a piece of paper," Betsy Glick, a project spokeswoman, said during a recent tour.

The granite and bronze memorial lies at the eastern end of the Lincoln Memorial's Reflecting Pool.

The core of the site is a small Rainbow Pool and fountain, restored after years of disuse, which sits 6 feet below street level. The effect is that the memorial appears to be slightly submerged. From a distance, only the tops of the taller structures are visible. Supporters say that tempers concerns that the project interrupts the vista along Mall.

Fifty-six stone pillars representing the 48 states in the union at the time of the war, seven U.S. territories, including Alaska and Hawaii, and the District of Columbia encircle the newly renovated pool and fountains. But the feeling of enclosure is lessened by the openness between the pillars, through which the trees beyond the perimeter and sky are visible.

Two 43-foot arches stand amid the pillars on the north and south ends to symbolize the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of operations, each with large bronze eagles to represent victory.

At the western end is the Freedom Wall with its 4,000 gold sculpted stars. The 407,316 U.S. deaths they symbolize are roughly seven times the Vietnam War's total and hundreds of times more than Iraq's thus far.

The memorial's architect, Friedrich St. Florian, has said that his design isn't meant to glorify war. Rather, it's to memorialize victory.

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