Stop 6: Remembering War

As Americans, we know that the freedom we cherish, and too often take for granted, was paid for with the lives of many soldiers. We choose to remember war in many ways, celebrating victories, solemn remembrance of those who gave their lives, and commeration of the past events. The geology of the war memorials, the stones used to build them, helps to strengthen each memorial’s theme. The Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial are two good examples of how geology was used to create a unique experience of the memorial.

The mood at either of these two veterans’ memorials is quite different from the moods at the presidential memorials. The stones, black granite from India (for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial) and California (at the Korean War Veterans Memorial), were chosen to provide places of both symbolic and actual reflection. Because the dark igneous rocks cooled quickly, individual minerals are not visible. These polished, mirror-like surfaces are where engraved names and images of veterans mingle with the reflections of visitors.

There are three war memorials on the National Mall that are very different from the Korean War and Vietnam Veterans Memorials. They are the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, the District of Columbia World War Memorial, and the World War II Memorial. Brighter stones and different designs make these three memorials less somber, somewhat celebratory, yet ultimately commemorative.

How is the mood at each memorial affected by the stones? Can you imagine how the feeling and mood of these memorials might change if a different type of stone had been chosen?


US Grant Memorial

Located near the Capitol Reflecting Pool, the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial represents the Union victory that General Grant engineered during the Civil War. The completion of this memorial in the 1920s placed General Grant on the east-west axis of the National Mall, two miles away from the memorial that honors the Civil War President, Abraham Lincoln. The Ulysses S. Grant Memorial is the largest equestrian statue grouping in Washington, D.C. White Vermont marble bases hold three massive bronze sculptures. Oxidation of the metals has turned the bronze from a golden brown to a dark green color.

The centerpiece is a statue of General Grant on his favorite horse, Cincinnati. The statue sits on a marble pedestal 22 feet high and flanked by four bronze lions. The sculptures on either side of General Grant are named “The Artillery Group” and “The Cavalry Group.” Relief panels on the sides of the pedestal below Grant’s statue depict “The Infantry Group.” The sculptor, Mr. Henry Merwin Shrady, was personally connected to this memorial because his father, Dr. George Frederick Shrady, had been General Grant's doctor. Shrady had no formal artistic training and completing the three massive bronze statues consumed the last 20 years of his life. Unfortunately, Shrady died only weeks before the memorial was dedicated in 1922, but his work still inspires visitors to the U.S. Grant Memorial.


DC War Memorial

The City of Washington, like many cities and states across the nation, offered up her sons and daughters upon America’s entrance into the Great War, known today as Wold War One. Twenty-six thousand men and women from the nation's capital answered President Woodrow Wilson's call to defend democracy. These men and women became members of the United States Armed Forces serving in the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. They served as infantrymen, nurses, pilots, sailors and in a multitude of other roles to help our nation protect the freedom of others. Preserved in the cornerstone of the District of Columbia World War Memorial is a list of 26,000 Washingtonians who served in the Great War. Inscribed on the memorial’s base are the names of the 499 men and women who never made it home.

Dedicated on Armistice Day of 1931 by President Herbert Hoover, the memorial reminds us of the sacrifice made by the people of Washington, D.C. This small, open Doric bandstand made from white Vermont Imperial Danby Marble, was designed by Frederick H. Brooke to perfectly fit the eighty-member United States Marine Band, “The President’s Own.” At the dedication ceremony on November 11, 1931, President Herbert Hoover and all others in attendence listened as John Philip Sousa conducted as the band played “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Brooke’s hope was that the memory of the World War One veterans would ring on like the music echoing from the memorial he constructed.

What we now refer to as World War One was once known as the Great War, or simply the World War. This war between multiple countries spanning the years of 1914-1918 was hoped to be the war to end all wars. Unfortunately that was not the case. When the District of Columbia World War Memorial was under construction (1929-1931), this country did not realize that it would be entering into another world war just a decade later. Now, 73 years after the dedication of the memorial to honor veterans of the first world war, the National Mall has dedicated a new memorial to the veterans of the second.


World War II Memorial

The World War II Memorial honors all those who contributed to the strength and unity of the United States throughout the Second World War from 1941 to 1945. Gold stars, granite columns and arches, bronze sculptures, and several fountains enhance the memorial plaza that sits between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The placement of the World War II Memorial on the east-west axis of the National Mall influenced its construction, architectural design, and symbolism. This is not the first memorial in Washington, DC to tell the stories and events of this generation of Americans. Do you remember who was President then?

Construction and Geology

Construction began on the 7.4 acre WWII Memorial in August of 2001. To avoid structural problems on the soft reclaimed land, 600 steel rods were pounded into the bedrock 35 feet below. Since sections of the memorial are built at --or below-- the water table, a concrete wall over two feet thick and 35 feet deep (to hit the bedrock) creates a “bathtub” to prevent ground water from seeping into the memorial. The memorial’s bathtub and steel support system had to be in place before the first piece of stone could be laid.

The primary building materials at the WWII Memorial are granite and bronze. The granite walls, columns, and arches come from South Carolina while the granite pavers on the plaza floor come from Georgia. To add more color, stone pavers that blend with the green bronze in the memorial came all the way from Brazil! The reconstructed Rainbow Pool is rimmed with granite from Mount Airy, North Carolina with dark Academy Black Granite from California on the pool's floor.

Architectural Design

Friedrich St. Florian designed the WWII Memorial to embrace the existing Rainbow Pool while retaining the historic view between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. When the McMillan Plan of 1901 established future memorial sites for the new reclaimed land of Washington, DC, this site was not one of them. Controversy in the site location of the WWII Memorial led to several design compromises. The Rainbow Pool and plaza were rebuilt 6 feet lower with columns and arches only on the north and south sides to keep the east west view open. In almost every space within the WWII Memorial, both the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument are both visible. However, when you stand in front of the wall of gold stars, no other view distracts your attention from the symbol of over 400,000 dead U.S. soldiers.


In the center of the memorial plaza, surrounded by tall granite columns, archways, and bronze sculptures, is the Rainbow Pool with fountains that catch the sun just right to make rainbows. The fountain also captures the celebratory mood of this memorial built to recognize the United States' role in World War Two.

The unity of all 56 states and territories at the time of World War Two is symbolized by 56 granite columns, bound together with a thick bronze rope. This classical symbol of unity can also be found at the Washington Monument in the lobby statue of George Washington and at the Lincoln Memorial, carved into Abraham Lincoln's chair. Find a thin stick outside and break it in two. Pretty easy? Now collect a bunch of sticks, tie them together and try breaking them. See how a bundle of sticks has more strength than a single one? The designs at all three memorials symbolize the strength of a united United States of America.
As with all war, lives were lost in World War Two. A wall of 4,000 gold stars represent the over 400,000 American lives lost in the war. The words "Here We Mark the Price of Freedom" is carved into the stone in front of stars.

Throughout the World War Two Memorial, different plants --sculpted in bronze by the artist Ray Kaskey-- are used as symbols. Alternating wreaths of wheat and oak hang on the 56 state and territory columns. Wheat symbolizes the United States' strength in Agriculture while oak symbolizes strength in industry. Four large eagles suspend a wreath of laurel in each of the arches. Laurel symbolizes United States victory in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of war. What is it about these specific plants that makes them good symbols?


Korean War Veterans Memorial

The story of the “Forgotten War of 1950 to 1953” is told throughout the design of the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Nineteen soldiers march uphill over symbolic granite and juniper obstacles towards a large American flag. The granite wall reflects the 19 statues in the Field of Service for a total of 38 soldiers. This number represents the 38th Parallel between North and South Korea.

The granite wall also has photographic images engraved in a rolling pattern, that from far away, look like hills. On closer inspection, you can see thousands of National Archives images of the men and women who not only actively served in the Korean War, but also those who provided non-combat support. A small granite curb on the opposite side of the Field of Service lists the 22 countries that contributed to this first war effort involving the United Nations.

The wall, curb, and statues meet at a circular pool of water where the words “Freedom is not Free” are carved into the granite. The numbers of those dead, wounded, missing, and captured are listed for both the United States and the United Nations along the edge of the Pool of Rememberence. What does freedom mean to you?

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was built to honor and remember the veterans of the Vietnam War. Over 58,000 individual names of men and women killed or missing in action are carved into the granite wall.

Starting in 1979, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc. raised money and lobbied Congress for a national memorial for Vietnam War veterans to be placed on the National Mall. The winning design from a 21 year old Yale student named Maya Lin was chosen in 1981. Ground was broken in March of 1982, and the memorial was dedicated on November 13, 1982.

Since then, there have been new elements added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial: a statue of three young soldiers, a flag with emblems of five branches of the military, and a statue of three women helping an injured soldier. Maya Lin’s design of two connecting walls, one pointing east to the Washington Monument and one pointing west to the Lincoln Memorial, creates a circle to include all the elements of the memorial, including the visitors.



Continue Your Tour of the National Mall

Stop 1: The Geology of the Washington D.C. Area

Stop 2: The History of Washington D.C.

Stop 3: Finding D.C.’s Foundation

Stop 4: A Watery Past

Stop 5: GeoStory of the Lincoln Memorial

Stop 6: Remembering War

Stop 7: Stories in Stone at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

Stop 8: Thomas Jefferson Memorial - A Place of Controversy

Stop 9: Washington Monument - The Nation’s Most Unique Rock Collection

Stop 10: Who Cares for the National Mall







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