by Sarah Rumpf
July 30, 2020
The history of the United States is preserved in archives, books, and the collective memory of the American people. It is also preserved in monuments, memorials, and statues made from marble, granite, bronze, or plaster.
Our nation’s capital is home to some of the world’s most recognizable and frequently visited monuments. This blog series will explore the events and people they commemorate, devoting particular attention to the spiritual themes depicted. By shedding light on our nation’s deep religious heritage, this series aims to inspire the next generation to emulate virtues and merits from America’s past that are worth memorializing.
FRC’s blog series on monuments is written by FRC summer interns and edited by David Closson, FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview. Be sure to read our previous post on the Lincoln Memorial.
On the National Mall, situated between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, stands the World War II Memorial. The memorial honors the 16 million men and women who served in the United States’ armed forces, the more than 400,000 who died, and the millions of civilians who supported the war effort from home. Today, the World War II Memorial is a poignant reminder of the spirit, strength, and sacrifice of the American people during the largest armed conflict in history.
World War II began in 1939 and ended in 1945. But it wasn’t until 1987 that the idea of a national monument memorializing the war was born. Roger Durbin, a World War II veteran, approached Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat from Ohio, with the suggestion. Representative Kaptur introduced the World War II Memorial Act to the House of Representatives on December 10, 1987. However, the bill did not pass in 1987, nor in 1989 or 1991, when it was reintroduced. However, on March 17, 1993, the Senate finally approved the Act, and Rep. Kaptur’s tireless advocacy finally paid off. The World War II Memorial Act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on May 25, 1993, and on May 29, 2004, President George W. Bush dedicated the completed memorial.
The World War II Memorial is comprised of a pool and fountains flanked by two archway pavilions and surrounded by 56 granite pillars arranged in an oval. Each pillar stands 17 feet tall and is inscribed with the name of a U.S. state or territory. The states alternate around the oval in the order that they ratified the U.S. Constitution. The pavilions, each adorned with eagles and a laurel wreath, represent the two theaters of the war, Atlantic and Pacific. A medallion shows the striking image of Nike, goddess of victory, standing on the helmet of Mars, god of war—indicating the U.S. victory over the war. The memorial features quotes from presidents and generals throughout. One inscription from President Harry Truman states, “Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.”
War memorials are a focal point for remembrance, both for individual families and for a collective culture, and play a vital role in ensuring that a permanent record and an everlasting tribute is appointed to lives given and affected during wartime. The World War II Memorial expresses the emotions of sacrifice, sorrow, and, eventually, victory. It acts as a historical touchstone that links the past to the present, enabling its 4.83 million annual visitors to remember and respect the sacrifices of those who fought, died, or were affected by the war.
The World War II Memorial challenges and inspires its visitors to consider the cost of the freedom that we enjoy. The sheer number of Americans who laid down their lives, marked by a wall of 4,048 gold stars, reminds us that freedom requires sacrifice. For Christians, it may evoke thoughts of the greatest sacrifice of all—Christ laying down His life for the sins of mankind. 1 John 2:2 states, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our but also for the sins of the whole world.” Without Christ sacrificing Himself for us, we have no forgiveness and no freedom from our sin.
Without monuments like the World War II Memorial, it can be easy to forget the hardships endured and sacrifices made by previous generations. Our freedom only exists today because of the brave actions of those who believed that freedom was worth tremendous sacrifice. The World War II Memorial should inspire us to fight for freedom and against injustice in our world. Moreover, if so many American heroes were willing to sacrifice their lives for our nation’s freedom, how much more should we Christians be willing to sacrifice for the spread of the gospel, which gives the ultimate freedom—freedom from sin.
Sarah Rumpf is an Events intern at Family Research Council.