Washington The opposition to the national World War II Memorial was almost as deep and bitter as the opposition to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. They called the design of the Vietnam Wall "a gash of shame" and a black symbol of defeat. They called the WWII Memorial design "a monumental shame."
Today the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is the most visited site in Washington, and Maya Lin's simple black granite wall with the names of 58,235 of America's dead is universally hailed as one of the most moving pieces of memorial art ever.
The Vietnam Memorial may have to share the limelight with its new neighbor, the World War II memorial rapidly taking shape on the mall in the heart of the nation's capital.
Former Sen. Bob Dole, national chairman of the World War II Memorial Society, says construction is on schedule for completion in March of next year, with the formal dedication ceremony scheduled to take place May 29, Memorial Day weekend, of 2004. Oh yes, Dole adds that so far the construction of the memorial is below budget.
Dole also wants you to know that the society has collected more than $190 million in total cash and pledges, more than enough to finance completion of the memorial and begin funding future maintenance of it.
After an extraordinarily snowy winter and wet spring in Washington, the construction crews are taking advantage of dry hot weather. More than 40 of the 56 17-foot-high granite columns engraved with the names of the 50 states, territories and possessions -- including the Philippines, Guam, American Samoa and Puerto Rico -- have already been set in place. Within the next two weeks two huge entranceway arches will be ready to receive bronze eagle sculptures.
Other workers are pouring concrete for the renovated Rainbow Pool and fountain that will occupy the center of the two semi-circles of state monuments. When that is complete 110 nozzles will spray water into the air. Still other workers aim sandblasting nozzles that are etching the words of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman into panels of Georgia and Carolina granite.
At the ceremonial entrance an announcement stone will declare:
"Here in the presence of Washington and Lincoln, one the eighteenth century father and the other the nineteenth century preserver of our nation, we honor those twentieth century Americans who took up the struggle during the second World War and made the sacrifices to perpetuate the gift our forefathers entrusted to us: a nation conceived in liberty and justice."
Guess what? In spite of all the criticism and carping of activists, environmentalists, aesthetes, editorialists and mugwumps, the uncompleted memorial already has an air about it: An air of majesty. An air of beauty. An air of solemnity. An air of celebration. It feels somehow appropriate to its mission, just as the Vietnam Memorial was appropriate to its mission.
It is meant to honor not only the 16 million Americans who wore a uniform during the 20th century's bloodiest and most important war but also those men and women who labored at home to build the aircraft, tanks, jeeps, guns, and shells and to pump the oil and grow the wheat.
Those of the Greatest Generation get to take a final bow with the dedication of their memorial. It is time to put aside the debates and complaints and prepare to enjoy what is being created to honor them and their sacrifices.
Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young."