Memorial Dedication

Nearly 59 years after the end of World War II, the National World War II Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, May 29, 2004.

The dedication of the memorial was the culmination of an 11-year effort that started when the memorial was authorized by Congress on May 25, 1993.

The dedication celebration spanned four days and included a WWII-themed reunion exhibition on the National Mall staged in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, a service of celebration and thanksgiving at the Washington National Cathedral, and an entertainment salute to WWII veterans from military performing units.


A four-day celebration from May 27 through May 30, 2004, featured the dedication of the National World War II Memorial, and paid tribute to the service and sacrifice of America’s World War II generation. The Tribute to a Generation events included wartime reminiscences, reunions, big band and swing music, WWII memorabilia and equipment displays, a religious service, military ceremonial units, and educational opportunities for all ages.

More than 150,000 people turned out Saturday, May 29, 2004, for the dedication ceremony on the National Mall. Two hours of lively pre-ceremony entertainment began at noon, taking attendees back to the wartime era through music, video images, newsreel clips, and reminiscences of the time. Postmaster General John E. Potter and John F. Walsh of the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a new postage stamp depicting the World War II Memorial. Remarks by Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur followed, along with a video chronicling the creation of the memorial.

The formal dedication ceremony began at 2 p.m. with a presentation of state flags and an invocation by Archbishop Philip M. Hannan, a World War II Chaplain. General P. X. Kelley, U.S. Marine Corps (ret.), chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission, welcomed attendees to the event. Notable speakers followed, including:

  • Tom Brokaw, news anchor and author
  • Tom Hanks, national spokesman for the World War II Memorial Campaign
  • Senator Bob Dole, national chairman of the World War II Memorial Campaign
  • Frederick W. Smith , national co-chairman of the World War II Memorial Campaign

Following the speeches, a Marine bugler performed taps inside the memorial. Gen. Kelley then presented the World War II Memorial to President George W. Bush , who received the memorial on behalf of the American people. President Bush noted that it is “a fitting tribute, open and expansive, like America; grand and enduring, like the achievements we honor.” The ceremony concluded with Denyce Graves leading The National Anthem and God Bless America. Dr. Barry C. Black, chaplain of the U.S. Senate, offered the closing benediction. Click on underlined names to read speeches.

The Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in partnership with ABMC organized the National World War II Reunion. The reunion drew an estimated 315,000 people over four days, from May 27 through May 30.

Activities of the reunion included:

  • Reunion Hall – A central gathering place for all World War II generation members attending the dedication celebration.
  • Two large performance pavilions where guests heard the live sounds of big band, swing and other music from the WWII era.
  • Wartime Stories Tent – Narrative sessions, interviews and workshops on a variety of topics, and chats with prominent WWII veterans.
  • Veterans History Project Tent – The Veterans History Project at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress presented interviews, speakers and exhibits that showcased first-hand accounts of those who served in uniform and on the home front. Library of Congress representatives also provided information and workshops on how to write, record, audio/videotape and preserve personal histories.
  • Preserving Memories – Experts from the National Archives, the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress advised veterans and their families on how best to preserve the documents, scrapbooks, photos, medals and memorabilia from WWII.
  • Building the Memorial – This pavilion featured an exhibition on the planning and building of the memorial.
  • Veterans Services – Representatives from Veterans Affairs, other federal agencies and other veterans service organizations were on hand to provide information on veterans’ resources and benefits that are available.
  • Family Activities – Children of all ages engaged in hands-on activities relating to the WWII period.
  • Military Equipment Display – Throughout the Reunion site were displays of military artifacts and equipment.

The armed forces ceremonial and musical units stationed in Washington, D.C. staged an entertainment salute to all WWII veterans. Talented members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard performed. Four two hour performances were held at the MCI Center, a large indoor arena in downtown Washington, D.C.

An interfaith service was held Saturday, May 29, at 10 a.m. at the Washington National Cathedral. This service celebrated the dedication of the memorial and remembered those who made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II. Military and civilian clergy, as well as WWII dignitaries, participated in the service at the cathedral known as A National House of Prayer for all People.

Speakers included:

  • General John W. Vessey, U.S. Army (Retired), former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • General P. X. Kelley, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired), Chairman, American Battle Monuments Commission
  • President George H.W. Bush


The formal dedication ceremony began at 2 p.m. with a presentation of state flags and an invocation by Archbishop Philip M. Hannan, a World War II Chaplain. GENERAL P. X. KELLEY, U.S. Marine Corps (ret.), Chairman, American Battle Monuments Commission, welcomed attendees to the event. Notable speakers followed, including:

  • Tom Brokaw, news anchor and author
  • Tom Hanks, national spokesman for the World War II Memorial Campaign
  • Senator Bob Dole, national chairman of the World War II Memorial Campaign
  • Frederick W. Smith , national co-chairman of the World War II Memorial Campaign

Unveiling the World War II Memorial postage stamp

JOHN E. POTTER, Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer, United States Postal Service
JOHN F. WALSH, Vice Chairman, Board of Governors, United States Postal Service






GENERAL P. X. KELLEY, U.S. Marine Corps (ret.), Chairman, American Battle Monuments Commission


TOM BROKAW, News Anchor and Author

TOM HANKS, National Spokesman, World War II Memorial Campaign

FREDERICK W. SMITH, National Co-Chairman, World War II Memorial Campaign

SENATOR BOB DOLE, National Chairman, World War II Memorial Campaign

Presentation of the World War II Memorial to the Nation

General P. X. Kelley


GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States


DR. BARRY C. BLACK, Chaplain of the United States Senate


Remarks From the Speakers

Remarks of
GENERAL P. X. KELLEY, U.S. Marine Corps (ret.)
Chairman, American Battle Monuments Commission
National WWII Memorial Dedication
May 29, 2004

Good afternoon: President Bush, President Clinton, honored guests – in particular my fellow members of the greatest generation (I was a junior air raid warden in West Roxbury, Massachusetts). On behalf of the American Battle Monuments Commission – the executive agency authorized by Congress to establish a National World War II Memorial here in our nation’s capital – it is my honor to welcome you to today’s dedication.

Our Commission was established in 1923, shortly after World War I. Appropriately, General of the Armies John J. Pershing was our first Chairman. Our primary mission is the care of nearly 131,000 Americans who sleep silently with their comrades beneath pristine white crosses and stars of David in our 24 overseas memorial cemeteries – 14 of which are dedicated to World War II.

Each time I walk along the uniform rows of these crosses, I am reminded of a spiritual tribute to the fallen, made by a chaplain following one of the most costly battles of World War II: “Here lie officers and men together, blacks and whites together, rich men and poor…together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudice. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy.”

Being entrusted by you, the American people, with this sacred mission – we do not take our responsibilities lightly. It was with this same sense of purpose that we accepted the challenge to design and construct a memorial which would reflect for evermore that World War II was the most significant event in the history of mankind. It was a conflict which involved every man, woman and child in our country. It was a conflict in which over 53 million souls departed from this planet – and it was a conflict in which over 400,000 Americans made the supreme sacrifice – but in the end it was a conflict in which our way of life prevailed. Our eternal thanks go to our greatest generation.

As World War II was the most significant event in the history of mankind, so it is that today’s event is the most significant event of its kind thus far in the 21st century. Our grateful nation remembers the 16 million men and women who wore the uniform of their country, and the 144 million who manned the home front. Let us pray to our chosen God that our nation’s memory of their service will never fade.

Let me now recognize some of those in attendance. On the dais today are:

  • Former presidents and members of Congress
  • World War II Medal of Honor recipients
  • Cabinet heads and government leaders
  • Members of the memorial design and construction teams; and
  • Representatives of the Gold Star Wives (parenthetically, a title my own mother earned), American War Orphans, our Memorial Advisory Board, and the military services.

In the audience are:

  • Families whose names resonate with the Second World War: Roosevelt, Churchill, Eisenhower – to name but a few.
  • Former and current commissioners and staff of the American Battle Monuments Commission
  • Delegations from our World War II allied nations and of those who fought against us then but now stand with us
  • Representatives of the veterans service organizations and those who made the memorial possible with their generous financial donations

But most importantly, our distinguished and honored guests: the thousands of World War II generation members gathered here in Washington; and the millions watching with family and friends at community gatherings or in veteran’s hospitals and homes throughout the nation—all sharing in this long-overdue and most-deserved moment of tribute and remembrance.

To our greatest generation, wherever you are gathered, I extend a heartfelt and most respectful welcome to this national celebration in your honor.

It is now my pleasure to invite the distinguished news anchor and author, Tom Brokaw, to share with you his reflections on America’s “greatest generation.”


Mr. President, on behalf of the American Battle Monuments Commission, it is my highest honor to present to you and the people of this great nation, the National World War II Memorial. Ladies and Gentleman, our Commander in Chief, the President of the United States – George W. Bush.

Remarks of
Tom Brokaw
National WWII Memorial Dedication
May 29, 2004

It goes without saying that this for me is a special privilege here today, because we gather to pay tribute to sacrifice and valor, to common cause and compassion, to triumph and determination. It has taken too long to erect this monument to symbolize the gratitude of our nation now and forever more to those of you who answered the call at home and abroad in what General Kelley rightly called the greatest war the world has ever known. A war in which more than 50 million people perished in their homes and on the battlefields a long way from home; in infernos at sea and beneath the sea and planes falling from the sky; in gas ovens and in slave labor camps. A war for all of its cruelties and terrible cost was a just war and a great victory that will be remembered for as long as history is recorded.

So it is fitting that we gather today around this handsome and evocative monument to such a noble undertaking. But no monument, however well positioned or polished, can take the place of the enduring legacy of all of you, the people that we honor here today. Your lives and how you lived them, the country you defended and loved and cared for the rest of your days, that is the undeniable legacy of you, the men and women I call “The Greatest Generation.” Now my declaration that this is the greatest generation has occasionally been challenged even by members of that generation. My short answer is, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

My longer answer, however, can be found in the trials and triumphs of your generation. At an early age this generation learned the harsh reality of deprivation and common cause during the great depression. They quit school not to indulge their selfish interest but to put food on the family table or shoes on their brothers and sisters. They just didn’t double date, they went six and eight to a car to a dance or a movie where admission was maybe a dime. They learned to live without more than with. And as their children learned later, they never took a dollar for granted, or spent one without thinking about it first.

Veterans here today will tell you that the first thing they noticed about basic training was breakfast. You could eat all that you wanted. Many got their first new pair of boots or trousers in basic training after a young life of hand-me-downs. Many will also tell you that before war came to America at Pearl Harbor they were opposed to this country getting involved. But when the Japanese attacked and the Germans declared war they converted overnight and transformed America into a mighty military machine and uniform and factories and laboratories and shipyards and coal mines and farm fields and shops and offices.

Men, women, young and old, everyone had a role. Farm boys who had never been in an airplane were soon flying new bombers with four engines. Surgical nurses were in mash units on front lines operating while they were being shelled. Teenagers were wearing sergeant stripes and fighting from North Africa to Rome. Guys from the city streets were in close quarter combat in dense jungles. Women were building ships and whatever were needed and driving trucks. Kids went without gum and new toys and in too many cases they went the rest of their lives without fathers they never knew.

In the halls of Congress and at the White House they bet the future of this country on the absolute necessity of unconditional victory while simultaneously creating new international, political, financial, and military institutions and alliances that protected and enhanced America’s national interests through cooperation and common goals, through not just shared strength, but also a shared commitment to diplomacy.

And when victory was complete, this generation, all of you, returned to this country and married in record numbers and went to college in record numbers thanks to the G.I. Bill. You gave us new industries and new art, new science, and unparalleled prosperity. But you also understood the real meaning of victory. You did not take revenge. Instead, you embarked on your next mission. Unprecedented for military victors, you rebuilt the shattered countries and confidence of your enemies.

Wherever you settled, you brought with them a discipline and maturity beyond your years, shaped by the hardships of depression, the training and the horrors and the deprivations of war. Those of you who returned with unshakable nightmares of war were held through long nights by your uncomplaining wives, and when daybreak came you went off together to resume your lives without whining or whimpering.

You were conditioned to serve so you became members of the school board or elders in your church, you ran for mayor and governor and Congress, the Senate and the White House. You were the join-up generation. You had given so much, but you didn’t hesitate to give more. Because too many of your friends had died defending the way of life and system of government that is renewed only by good people willing to do the right thing. Some of you became rich, famous and powerful. But the tell-tale strength of this generation came from the ordinary men and women who awoke every morning to tend to the needs of their families, their communities, their nation, and mankind without expectation of recognition or reward. Not every member had a common point of view. There were ferocious political battles by day, and one shared concern by night fall, what is best for the country?

On some issues it took a little longer than others. While this was a great generation, it was not perfect. When the men came home, it took them a while to fully appreciate the right of women to take their place at their side whatever the endeavor. And despite the patriotism and the courage of black Americans and Hispanic-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Native Americans and other people of color during the war, it took too long, much too long, to legally and morally confront the cancer of racism.

When America was divided by another war and a cultural upheaval, “The Greatest Generation” was bewildered and divided, as well. It didn’t give up on the generation that came after, their kids. Even though you wanted them to cut their hair, to get married before they lived together, and for God’s sake turn down the music. Moreover, as the men and women of “The Greatest Generation” know not everyone in their own generation was up to the standard. There were the slackers and the cowards; the profiteers and the blowhards; the bullies and the boneheads. But they’ve been forgotten now. They have been lost in the pettiness of their own behavior, overwhelmed by the sweeping and indisputable achievement of the authentic members of your generation, “The Greatest Generation.”

On a personal note, I want to thank all of you for the privilege of sharing your stories and your lives. I am humbled by our relationship. Those of us in succeeding generations are deeply indebted to you for first giving so much of your youth, your families and your friends to war, and then so much of the rest of your days to your country, and to the world. As I know personally, so many of you have been reluctant to talk about those difficult days because the painful memories have not faded. And because, as so many of you have said, you were the lucky ones. You came back. You survived. So many of your friends did not.

So you have felt an enduring obligation, a duty to them. To live your life in a way that honors them. Your lives have led the way in war and peace. And now it falls to the succeeding generations, to the rest of us to honor your lives, the greatest legacy of “the Greatest Generation,” not with words or memorials or ceremonies or tributes. We are honored and obligated to honor you with our lives by fulfilling our duty, the duty to carry on your noble mission. I salute each and every one of you. Thank you all very much.

It’s now my pleasure to introduce a man who embodied the best of the greatest generation in his portrayal of Captain John Miller, Charlie Company, Fifth Rangers in Saving Private Ryan with his friend and collaborator, Steven Spielberg. He also gave the nation a Band of Brothers, that memorable account of heroism, loyalty and humility in combat. And when the need was greatest for this memorial, this remarkable American answered the call without hesitation. He is a movie star. But as I have come to know from personal experience, he is first a husband, a father, and a citizen. Ladies and gentlemen, the youngest member of “The Greatest Generation,” the schoolteacher from Pennsylvania, Ranger Captain John Miller, my friend Tom Hanks.

Remarks of
Tom Hanks
National WWII Memorial Dedication
May 29, 2004

Had this memorial been erected at war’s end, the surviving participants of the Second World War would long ago have gathered here to remember those lost in that conflagration. Those that survived the battlefield, who aided in provisions, and who sacrificed comforts would have already dedicated this memorial and then gone on to live in a new, still imperfect world.

But as we now live in the Third Millennium, time demands that more than the fallen be remembered in this place of National Honor. Let us remember not just those who lost their lives in the war, but all Americans who were alive, conscientious, and chose to serve as best they could in the years from 1941 to 1945. It is no embellishment to say their lives were interrupted, their futures were altered, their dreams were held in stasis while every minute of their youth was burdened with fear, with loss and with uncertainty. For them, each day began with unanswerable questions as to when peace would come, when liberators would rise, if tolerance could fill the dark void left by terror or if tyrants were to rule half the world. Everyday they asked themselves “what can I do?” and then provided their own answer.

Against twin enemies who believed they were genetically, racially, theologically and institutionally superior to all others in the world, those Americans and their allies proved them not only wrong, but foolish. In a 45-month long battle against the conceit that moral superiority can be declared, those Americans across the sea and at home in the United States – many of you who have made it here today – proved that true human morality can only be demonstrated – by deed, by sacrifice and ultimately by mercy.

Lingering through the years though, is a question – asked every time we sing our National Anthem – a question which will be as relevant to our American character a century from today as it was sixty years ago.

The first stanza of the Star Spangled Banner asks not merely about our flag, but about ourselves. In time each generation is called to answer that question as it sees fit, as it must. If our nation is to last, if liberty is to be the standard for the world, if truth is to be our legacy, if tolerance is to reign over humankind – all generations will respond to that query as did those Americans whose spirit we memorialize here in granite and bronze. As demonstrated by the sacrifices made by those alive in 1941 and by those who never saw 1946 – you, our extended national family declared by your actions that, yes, our flag still flies, we do come from a land of the free and America is a home of the brave.

Remarks of
Frederick W. Smith
Founder and Chairman of FedEx Corporation
National WWII Memorial Dedication
May 29, 2004

It seems so long ago now that Senator Dole asked me to help raise funds for this magnificent memorial you have just seen. It was the summer of 1997 and he had been national chairman of the fund-raising campaign for only a few months. The campaign was in its embryonic stage, slowly picking up momentum. But it really wasn’t until the summer of 1998 that we began to see solid results.

If you remember, that’s when Steven Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan put a face to the World War II generation for millions of Americans, reminding us of the selfless courage, dedication and sacrifice so common during the war years. Tom Brokaw further defined the greatest generation as ordinary people doing extraordinary things. And Tom Hanks began telling the American people that it was time to say thank you. At that point the memorial honoring the sacrifices made during the Second World War came to represent an entire generation of Americans who selflessly left their homes for battlefields, factories and farms, doing whatever it took to meet the needs of a nation at war.

Now, every family has stories to tell of those years including my own with six World War II veterans in it. The World War II themed films and books that became popular as we reached the end of the 20th century encouraged others to share those stories and generated increased awareness of our efforts to fund the World War II Memorial.

Our fund raising became a campaign across America from corporate boardrooms to school classrooms; from the largest veterans organizations to the smallest reunion groups; from state legislatures to individual homes. Many of our contributors are listed in your program. Their gifts led the way but every bit as important were individuals like young Zane Fayos from Fayetteville, New York. He gave his entire life savings of $195 to say thank you to grandma and grandpa. We sincerely thank everyone who did their part, large or small to make this memorial a reality.

Being part of this national memorial project has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my professional life. And it has been a special honor to work along side a man who has become the personification of America’s World War II veterans. As most of you know, Senator Bob Dole was a distinguished combat leader, grievously wounded, whose incredible tenacity allowed him to come to the national stage and go on to become one of our nation’s greatest leaders. It is my distinct pleasure and my great honor, ladies and gentlemen, to introduce the national chairman of the World War II Memorial Fund-raising Campaign, one of the true greats of the greatest generation, Senator Bob Dole.

Remarks of
Senator Bob Dole
National WWII Memorial Dedication
May 29, 2004

In the first week of January 1945, a hungry and lonesome second lieutenant from small town Kansas dispatched a message to his folks back home: “You can send me something to eat whenever you are ready,” he wrote. “Send candy, gum, cookies, cheese, grape jelly, popcorn, nuts, peanut clusters, Vicks Vapo Rub, wool socks, wool scarf, fudge, cookies, ice cream, liver and onions, fried chicken, banana cake, milk, fruit cocktail, Swiss steaks, crackers, more candy, Lifesavers, peanuts, the piano, the radio, the living room suite, the record player and Frank Sinatra. I guess you might as well send the whole house if you can get it into a five-pound box. P.S., keep your fingers crossed.

In authoring that only slightly exaggerated wish list I merely echoed the longings of 16 million Americans whose greatest wish was for an end to the fighting. Sixty years on our ranks have dwindled for the thousands assembled here on the Mall and the millions more watching all across America in living rooms and hospitals and wherever it may be – our men and women overseas and our friends in Great Britain and our allies all around the world. Our final reunion cannot long be delayed.

Yet if we gather in the twilight it is brightened by the knowledge that we have kept faith with our comrades. Sustained by over 600,000 individual contributions, we have raised this memorial to commemorate the service and sacrifice of an entire generation. What we dedicate today is not a memorial to war, rather it’s a tribute to the physical and moral courage that makes heroes out of farm and city boys and that inspires Americans in every generation to lay down their lives for people they will never meet, for ideals that make life itself worth living.

This is also a memorial to the American people who in the crucible of war forged a unity that became our ultimate weapon. Just as we pulled together in the course of a common threat 60 years ago, so today’s Americans united to build this memorial. Small children held their grandfather’s hand while dropping pennies in a collection box. Entire families contributed in memory of loved ones who could win every battle except the battle against time. I think of my brother, Kenny, and my brothers-in-law Larry Nelson and Allen Steel, just three among the millions of ghosts in navy blue and olive drab we honor with this memorial.

Of course, not every warrior wore a uniform. As it happens, today is the 101st birthday of Bob Hope, the GI’s favorite entertainer who did more to boost our morale than anyone next to Betty Grable. And I can already hear Bob…“but I was next to Betty Grable.” And it’s hard to believe, but today is also the 87th birthday of John F. Kennedy, a hero of the south Pacific, who, a generation after the surrender documents were signed aboard the USS Missouri, spoke of a new generation of Americans tempered by war that was nevertheless willing “to pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.” And we shall always honor the memory of our great leader and our American hero, General Eisenhower, who led us to victory all across the world.

As we meet here today, young Americans are risking their lives in liberty’s defense. They are the latest link in a chain of sacrifice older than America itself. After all, if we met the test of our times, it was because we drew inspiration from those who had gone before, including the giants of history who are enshrined on this Mall, from Washington, who fathered America with his sword and ennobled it with his character… from Jefferson, whose pen gave eloquent voice to our noblest aspirations…from Lincoln, who preserved the Union and struck the chains from our countrymen…and from Franklin Roosevelt, who presided over a global coalition to rescue humanity from those who had put the soul itself in bondage. Each of these presidents was a soldier of freedom. And in the defining event of the 20th century, their cause became our cause. On distant fields and fathomless oceans, the skies over half the planet and in 10,000 communities on the home front, we did far more than avenge Pearl Harbor. The citizen soldiers who answered liberty’s call fought not for territory, but for justice, not for plunder, but to liberate enslaved peoples around the world.

In contending for democracy abroad, we learned painful lessons about our own democracy. For us, the Second World War was in effect a second American revolution. The war invited women into the workforce. It exposed the injustice on African Americans, Hispanics and Japanese Americans and others who demonstrated yet again that war is an equal opportunity employer. What we learned in foreign fields of battle we applied in post-war America. As a result, our democracy, though imperfect, is more nearly perfect than in the days of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. That’s what makes America forever a work in progress – a land that has never become, but is always in the act of becoming. And that’s why the armies of democracy have earned a permanent place on this sacred ground.

It is only fitting when this memorial was opened to the public about a month ago the very first visitors were school children. For them, our war is ancient history and those who fought it are slightly ancient themselves. Yet, in the end, they are the ones for whom we built this shrine and to whom we now hand the baton in the unending relay of humidity possibility.

Certainly the heroes represented by the 4,000 gold stars on the freedom wall need no monument to commemorate their sacrifice. They are known to God and to their fellow soldiers, who will mourn their passing until the day of our own. In their names, we dedicate this place of meditation, and it is in their memory that I ask you to stand, if possible, and join me in a moment of silent tribute to remind us all that at sometime in our life, we have or may be called upon to make a sacrifice for our country to preserve liberty and freedom…

…God bless America.

Remarks of
President George W. Bush
National WWII Memorial Dedication
May 29, 2004

I’m honored to join with President Clinton, President Bush, Senator Dole and other distinguished guests on this day of remembrance and celebration. General Kelley, here in the company of the generation that won the war, I proudly accept the World War II Memorial on behalf of the people of the United States of America.

Raising up this memorial took skill and vision and patience. Now the work is done. And it is a fitting tribute – open and expansive, like America; grand and enduring, like the achievements we honor. The years of World War II were a hard, heroic and gallant time in the life of our country. When it mattered most, an entire generation of Americans showed the finest qualities of our nation and of humanity. On this day, in their honor, we will raise the American flag over a monument that will stand as long as America itself.

In the history books, the Second World War can appear as a series of crises and conflicts, following an inevitable course from Pearl Harbor to the coast of Normandy to the deck of the Missouri. Yet, on the day the war began, and on many hard days that followed, the outcome was far from certain. There was a time in the years before the war, when many earnest and educated people believed that democracy was finished. Men who considered themselves learned and civilized came to believe that free institutions must give way to the severe doctrines and stern discipline of a regimented society.

Ideas first whispered in the secret councils of a remote empire, or shouted in the beer halls of Munich, became mass movements, and those movements became armies. And those armies moved mercilessly forward, until the world saw Hitler striking in Paris and U.S. Navy ships burning in their own port. Across the world, from a hiding place in Holland to prison camps of Lausanne, the captives awaited their liberators. Those liberators would come, but the enterprise would require the commitment and effort of our entire nation.

As World War II began, after a decade of economic depression, the United States was not a rich country. Far from being a great power, we had only the 17th-largest army in the world. To fight and win on two fronts, Americans had to work and save and ration and sacrifice as never before. War production plants operated shifts around the clock. Across the country, families planted victory gardens – 20 million of them – producing 40 percent of the nation’s vegetables in backyards and on rooftops. Two out of every three citizens put money into war bonds. As Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby said, this was a people’s war, and everyone was in it.

As life changed in America, so did the way that Americans saw our own country and its place in the world. The bombs at Pearl Harbor destroyed the very idea that America could live in isolation from the plots of aggressive powers. The scenes of the concentration camps, the heaps of bodies and ghostly survivors, confirmed forever America’s calling to oppose the ideologies of death.

As we defended our ideals, we began to see that America is stronger when those ideals are fully implemented. America gained strength because women labored for victory in factory jobs, cared for the wounded, and wore the uniform themselves. America gained strength because African-Americans and Japanese-Americans and others fought for their country, which wasn’t always fair to them. In time, these contributions became expectations of equality. And the advances for justice in post-war America made us a better country. With all our flaws, Americans at that time had never been more united. And together, we began and completed the largest single task in our history.

At the height of conflict, America would have ships on every ocean and armies on five continents and, on the most crucial of days, would move the equivalent of a major city across the English Channel. And all these vast movements of men and armor were directed by one man who could not walk on his own strength. President Roosevelt brought his own advantages to the job. His resolve was stronger than the will of any dictator. His belief in democracy was absolute. He possessed a daring that kept the enemy guessing. He spoke to Americans with an optimism that lightened their task. And one of the saddest days of the war came just as it was ending, when the casualty notice in the morning paper began with the name Franklin D. Roosevelt, commander in chief.

Across the years, we still know his voice. And from his words, we know that he understood the character of the American people. Dictators and their generals had dismissed Americans as no match for a master race. FDR answered them. In one of his radio addresses, he said, “We have been described as a nation of weaklings, playboys. Let them tell that to General MacArthur and his men. Let them tell that to the boys in the Flying Fortresses. Let them tell that to the Marines.”

In all, more than 16 million Americans would put on the uniform of the soldier, the sailor, the airman, the Marine, the Coast Guardsman or the merchant mariner. They came from city streets and prairie towns, from public high schools and West Point. They were a modest bunch, and still are. The ranks were filled with men like Army Private Joe Seccato. In heavy fighting in France, he saw a good friend killed, and charged up a hill,
determined to shoot the ones who did it. Private Seccato ran straight into enemy fire, killing 12, wounding two, capturing four, and inspiring his whole unit to take the hill and destroy the enemy. Looking back on it 55 years later, Joe Seccato said, “I’m not a hero. Nowadays they call what I did road rage.” This man’s conduct that day gained him the Medal of Honor, one of 464 awarded for actions in World War II.

Americans in uniform served bravely, fought fiercely and kept their honor, even under the worst of conditions. Yet they were not warriors by nature. All they wanted was to finish the job and make it home. One soldier in the 58th Armored Field Artillery was known to have the best kept rifle in the unit. He told his buddies he had plans for that weapon after the war. He said, “I want to take it home, cover it in salt, hang it on the wall in my living room so I can watch it rust.”

These were the modest sons of a peaceful country, and millions of us are very proud to call them “Dad.” They gave the best years of their lives to the greatest mission their country ever accepted. They faced the most extreme danger, which took some and spared others for reasons only known to God. And wherever they advanced or touched ground, they are remembered for their goodness and their decency.

A Polish man recalls being marched through the German countryside in the last weeks of the war, when American forces suddenly appeared. He said, “Our two guards ran away. And this soldier with little blond hair jumps off his tank. ‘You’re free,’ he shouts at us. We started hugging each other, crying and screaming. God sent angels down to pick us up out of this hell place.”

Well, our boys weren’t exactly angels. They were flesh and blood, with all the limits and fears of flesh and blood. That only makes the achievement more remarkable –the courage they showed in a conflict that claimed more than 400,000 American lives, leaving so many orphans and widows and Gold Star mothers. The soldiers’ story was best told by the great Ernie Pyle, who shared their lives and died among them. In his book, Here’s Your War, he described World War II as many veterans now remember it.

“It’s a picture,” he wrote, “of tired and dirty soldiers who are alive and don’t want to die; of long, darkened convoys in the middle of the night; of shocked, silent men wandering back down the hill from battle; of jeeps and petrol dumps and smelly bedding rolls and C-rations; and blown bridges and dead mules and hospital tents and shirt collars greasy black from months of wearing; and of laughter, too; and anger and wine and lovely flowers and constant cussing. All these it is composed of, and of graves and graves and graves.”

On this Memorial Day weekend, the graves will be visited and decorated with flowers and flags. Men whose step has slowed are thinking of boys they knew when they were boys together. And women who watched the train leave and the years pass can still see the handsome face of their young sweetheart. America will not forget them either. At this place, at this memorial, we acknowledge a debt of long standing to an entire generation of Americans – those who died, those who fought and worked and grieved and went on. They saved our country, and thereby saved the liberty of mankind.

And now I ask every man and woman who saw and lived World War II, every member of that generation, to please rise, as you are able, and receive the thanks of our great nation.

May God bless you.


Nearly 59 years after the end of World War II, the National World War II Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, May 29, 2004.

The dedication of the memorial was the culmination of an 11-year effort that started when the memorial was authorized by Congress on May 25, 1993. Construction began September 4, 2001, after several years of fund raising and public hearings. The memorial opened to the public on April 29, 2004. (For a complete chronology, click here.)

The dedication celebration spanned four days and included a WWII-themed reunion exhibition on the National Mall staged in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, a service of celebration and thanksgiving at the Washington National Cathedral, and an entertainment salute to WWII veterans from military performing units.

Memorial and Dedication Photos