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National World War Two Memorial

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember.

And I’m Faith Lapidus. Today, come with us to the National World War Two Memorial which just opened in Washington. And meet some of the people it honors.

The United States observes Memorial Day on the last Monday in May. This holiday is for Americans to honor members of the armed forces who died in wars.

In World War Two, the United States and its allies fought Japan, Germany and Italy, together known as the Axis powers. Sixteen-million men and women served in the American military between nineteen-forty-one and nineteen-forty-five. More than four-hundred-thousand never returned home.

Today fewer and fewer veterans of the war are still alive. Each day a thousand more die.

Yet, until now, the nation’s capital had no special place to remember their service to their country.

Now it does. The National World War Two Memorial officially opened on Saturday in Washington, D.C. Organizers put together four days of observances.

The American Battle Monuments Commission planned a series of activities. Events included a huge reunion for the young soldiers, sailors, nurses, and pilots of sixty years ago.

Thousands of women served in the armed forces during World War Two. They were nurses and pilots, intelligence and office workers, teachers and musicians. Many women aided the war effort by working in defense factories.

And what would reliving the nineteen-forties be without remembering big band and swing sounds, like the music of Glenn Miller's Orchestra.

(MUSIC: "String of Pearls")

Roger Durbin remembered those days. He was in World War Two. The United States did not want to enter the war. But on December seventh, nineteen-forty-one, Japan bombed the Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Congress acted quickly to declare war. By this time, Nazi Germany had already invaded and occupied western Europe.

Roger Durbin fought in the Battle of the Bulge in nineteen-forty-four. That was the last major campaign by the Germans to stop the Allied invasion of Europe. Germany surrendered in May nineteen-forty-five.

Forty years later, Roger Durbin was at a political event in his home state of Ohio. This Army veteran shouted a question to his local congresswoman. Mr. Durbin wanted to know why the nation’s capital had no memorial to his war.

Representative Marcy Kaptur of Ohio did not let that question go unanswered. In nineteen-eighty-seven, the congresswoman proposed a World War Two memorial for Washington. Yet, six years went by before Congress passed legislation to build it. Then, seemingly endless delays followed.

Placement, cost, design – there was debate about everything. Such delays are really not so unusual, though. Work finally started in September of two-thousand-one. The memorial cost more than one-hundred-seventy-million-dollars. Much of it came from private gifts.

Over the years, Roger Durbin worked from Ohio to raise money. Schoolchildren gave what they could. Former Kansas Senator Bob Dole and businessman Frederick Smith led a national campaign to collect money. Mr. Dole was a hero in World War Two and, in recent years, a candidate for president. In the end, all the efforts raised more money than the memorial needed.

Now, completed, it rises between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial along the National Mall.

The National World War Two Memorial stands in the open air. Visitors enter from Seventeenth Street in Northwest Washington. The ceremonial entrance opens into an area shaped like an egg. It is about the size of a football field.

Friedrich St. Florian, an Austrian-born architect in the United States, designed the memorial. It is built of bronze and granite. The gray stone looks white in the sun.

In the center, at ground level, is a round pool of water. More water shoots from a circle of fountains in the middle. When the sunlight strikes just right, rainbows of color dance in the air.

Fifty-six stone pillars rise around the pool. These represent the states, territories and the District of Columbia at the time of the war. Two tall arches carry the names of where it all took place. One says “Atlantic”; the other says “Pacific.”

Along one side of the memorial is a wall three meters high but much wider. This is called the Freedom Wall. On it are four-thousand gold stars. These honor the more than four-hundred-thousand Americans killed in the war. In front of the wall are these words: "Here we mark the price of freedom."

Hector Blanchette came from Connecticut to see the new memorial. He is visiting with his son who lives near Washington. Mr. Blanchette remembers Washington from long ago. Before World War Two, he helped build an airport here. He says he joined the Army because “that is what young men did then.”

For the next several years, Hector Blanchette helped prepare shores on New Guinea and other islands so American ships could land. He was sent to Japan after the Japanese surrendered in September of nineteen-forty-five.

A woman from Maryland is taking pictures of a pillar that says “Indiana.” Two of her family members from that state went to war. One of them, Allen Anderson, still lives in Porter County, Indiana.

Mr. Anderson says he joined the Navy at seventeen. He became an airplane repairman on a small aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean.

Allen Anderson says he will never forget the Battle of Leyte Gulf. It happened in October of nineteen-forty-four. At that time, the United States was trying to recapture the Philippine islands from the Japanese. Some historians call it the greatest sea battle ever fought. More than two-hundred-eighty ships took part. The young American sailor stayed at his battle station for seventy-two hours.

The Americans had to deal not only with Japanese shells. They also had to look out for kamikaze pilots. These pilots would try to crash their planes into American ships.

Over several days, the Americans sank many Japanese ships. The Japanese navy never recovered from the loss of the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Recently we also talked to an eighty-four-year-old woman. She is a retired clothing designer from Chevy Chase, Maryland. She spent some of the war restricted to a camp in California. President Franklin Roosevelt had ordered that people of Japanese ancestry be held as threats to security.

This woman did not want us to give her name.

She got married in the camp. Her husband, also of Japanese ancestry, offered to join an intelligence agency in Washington. Years later, he was honored for his secret work.

Nancy Dayhoff is an artist. She still has a clear image of World War Two in her mind. She was a college student. She was in love with a soldier named Thomas Belmont. In nineteen-forty-four, he received orders to go to Europe. Like other soldiers, he did not know if he would return alive.

So he and his girlfriend raced around New York City. They wanted to get married, quickly. But first they had to get the required legal documents and find a church, which they did.

Soon afterwards, Thomas Belmont left for Italy. He fought in the war and survived. He lived until nineteen-eighty-two.

Not far from the new military memorial are two others. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial opened in nineteen-eighty-two. The Korean War Veterans Memorial opened in nineteen-ninety-five.

The veteran who dreamed of a national memorial to his war did not live to see it built. Roger Durbin died of cancer four months before ground was broken.

The National World War Two Memorial honors the millions who served at a time when their nation, and the world, needed their help. This Memorial Day, Washington has a new place to remember history.

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson. I’m Faith Lapidus.

And I’m Steve Ember. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA, in VOA Special English.


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