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13 Facts About the WW2 Memorial

Updated: May 21, 2024

This post covers the facts about the WWII Memorial in Washington, DC, with tips on how to get here, guided tours and what you will see. 

I've been leading tours of the National Mall with DC by Foot since 2011 and have taken thousands of guests through this memorial. Of course, the greatest experiences have been when we get to bring WWII Veteran Honor Flights.

I think visiting the WWII Memorial (along with our other veterans memorials) is an important part of visiting the Nation's capital, so use this post to help plan your trip.

World War 2 Memorial Registry

PLAN YOUR VISIT

The World War 2 Memorial is a 7 acre (3 hectares) memorial located on the National Mall and is dedicated to those who served in uniform and at the homefront during the war.

Like most memorials in DC, the World War 2 National Memorial is open 24 hours a day. It is free to visit and no tickets are required.

A fun story I like to share about the WWII Memorial being closed ...

During the government shutdown (the one where they actually did block off the memorials), I was at the WWII Memorial with an honor flight. There were fences surrounding the memorial keeping everyone from going inside and the veterans I was with were visibly upset about this. Someone said "Oh, the memorial is closed!" and one of the veterans said "So were the beaches of Normandy!" and he moved the fence and led everyone inside. It is one of my favorite tour moments.

However, NPS Rangers are on staff to answer questions and provide interpretive tours of the memorial from 9:30 am until 10:00 pm (22:00) every day except for Christmas Day.

World War 2 Memorial DC at Night

The memorial is particularly beautiful lit up at night and is one of the top things to do at night in DC.

The memorials on-site computer registry is available during Ranger hours only. Read more about honoring WW2 veterans here.

Most visitors come as part of a visit to the National Mall and spend between 20-30 minutes here, though you could easily spend more time here.


How to Get Here

The World War 2 Memorial is located on the west side of the National Mall (map), in between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

It is very centrally located and all the sidewalks through the center of the National Mall take you straight to it, so its hard to miss.

Generally, I suggest people visit all the memorials on the National Mall at once since they are clustered together and the WWII Memorial is easy to get to from the Lincoln, Vietnam Veterans, Korean War Veterans Memorials and Washington Monument.

Where is the World War 2 Memorial

The memorial is a stop on our daily National Mall Tour as well as our National Mall and Tidal Basin Tour and Memorials and Moonlight tour, so let us take you there.

If you are considering a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket while in DC, then note that all companies stop at this memorial as well as other types of bus tours.  


Nearest Metro Station

The closest Metro station is the Smithsonian Metro Station (Blue-Orange-Silver).

It’s about a 13-minute walk (directions) from the Metro station to the memorial.  

Smithsonian Station to World War 2 Memorial

If you are new to DC's subway, then read our guide on navigating the Metro system.

If Metro's Red Line is most convenient for you, you could exit at Farragut North Metro Station. From there, it's about a 20-min walk to the memorial.

Take the 17th Street exit and head down the hill (southbound). The WWII Memorial will be on your right once you reach the National Mall.


DC Circulator Bus

Alternatively, you could take the DC Circulator Bus, which has a National Mall route. The bus is inexpensive at $1 a person and makes stops at various memorials and monuments.

DC Circulator Bus

However, the bus doesn't have a stop at the WW2 Memorial. You would need to get off at either the Washington Monument or the MLK Memorial stops.

Both stops require just a 5-7 minute walk.


Parking

There is very limited street parking nearby.

I'm usually able to find parking all along Ohio Drive just to the south of the Lincoln Memorial (see the green lines below). There are generally more spots the closer to Jefferson Memorial you get, as the stops along Ohio Drive closest to Lincoln fill up first.

Parking near the Lincoln Memorial

Just be patient, as visitors are coming and going frequently, so you will eventually get a spot there.

Alternatively, you could park along Constitution Ave NW outside of rush hour. All spots are paid and limited to 3 hours, so pay attention to signage.

You can also pay for a space in a garage ahead of time through a service called Spothero


WWII MEMORIAL DESIGN EXPLAINED

I think one of the best ways to visit the WWII Memorial is with a tour guide - we've spent a lot of time researching and understanding the design and symbolism.

But if you want to know more about the memorial, here is information I make sure to explain to guests on my National Mall tour.

The WWII Memorial was dedicated in 2004 at the site of the Rainbow Pool, which was incorporated into the memorial design as the fountain you see in the center.

WWII Memorial

The fountain has been a site of controversy in the past few years. On hot humid days, there is nothing our 8th grade school groups want more than to soak their feet in the cool water. You'll always see a number of tourists doing this and just as many aghast at this. It is officially allowed by the Park Rangers as long as you do not wade in the water.

The memorial is divided into two sides (north and south) that represent the Atlantic and Pacific fronts.

You will find the names of battles, quotes from presidents and generals, and scenes from each front throughout the memorial.

Atlantic Arch WWII

The Atlantic and Pacific arches also act as entrances to walk into the memorial.

Inside each arch, you will find 4 American bald eagles, each holding garland in their beaks, which holds a laurel wreath.

Eagles World War 2 Memorial

The laurel wreath is the symbol of victory and peace.

Directly beneath the wreath is a large medallion depicting Nike, the Roman Goddess of Victory.

She is standing on the helmet of Mars, the God of War, and she is holding parts of a broken sword in both hands. 

WWII Victory Medal

World War 2 veterans will recognize this image as it's the same image that adorned the only universal medal earned by each member of the U.S. Armed Forces during WW2.

The symbols in these 2 entrances leave no doubt to the visitor that this memorial is dedicated to the total victory by U.S. and Allied Forces.

Surrounding the fountain are 56 columns that list U.S. states, commonwealths, and territories that sent men and women to serve under the U.S. flag during WWII.

Something all our American guests do is fine their home state for a photo!

Each column has two wreaths, one inside and one outside.

WWII Wreath

One wreath consists of oak leaves, representing industrial might. The other consists of wheat, representing the agricultural might of the United States.


Freedom Wall and the Gold Stars

The Freedom Wall, an arched wall containing thousands of gold stars, is where we "mark the price of Freedom" and honor the 416,800 American servicemen who died in uniform during WWII.

Gold Stars World War 2 Memorial Freedom Wall

The gold stars come from a military tradition in the USA where military families hang small flags in the windows of their homes to note that a family member was serving in uniform.

Blue Stars World War 2

If that member paid the ultimate sacrifice, then the blue star would be replaced with a gold star.

There are 4,048 Gold Stars with each star representing approximately 100 U.S. service members who perished in uniform during the war.

The Order of the States

The order of the states and territories is not immediately obvious.

They are arranged in order that they became part of the United States and alternate from side to side, starting with Delaware and Pennsylvania, the 1st two states to ratify the U.S. Constitution, on either side of the Freedom Wall.

It continues to alternate back and forth until the end where the final columns of territories and districts of the United States.


Kilroy Was Here

One of the many hidden secrets of the WWII Memorial is a depiction of Kilroy hidden on the memorial (actually it is hidden twice!).

This is my favorite part to visit with WWII Veterans (and kids... okay, with everyone!). This is a very emotional place to tour with veterans but in my more than decade of leading tours, every time I've brought a veteran to find Kilroy, we've ended the visit with a smile.

Kilroy Was Here WWII

You'll have to take one of our tours to find him :).

For more information on the symbolism and history of the WWII Memorial, take our guided National Mall Tour as well as our National Mall and Tidal Basin Tour.


Nearby Attractions

Due to its central location on the National Mall, the World War 2 Memorial is nearby several other popular attractions.

Be sure to read our guide to all memorials and monuments in Washington, DC.


GUIDED TOURS AND RANGER TALKS

There is no shortage of private companies that offer tours that include the WWII Memorial, including us, DC by Foot.  

The memorial is a stop on 3 of our most popular walking tours. 

  • National Mall Tour
  • National Mall and Tidal Basin Tour
  • Memorials and Moonlight Tour

Browse our live schedule.

The memorial is also a part of our anytime GPS-led audio tour of the National Mall. 

There are also several sightseeing bus toursbike tours, and Segway tours that offer guided walks as part of their tours, including walks of the memorial.


National Park Ranger Talks

Park Rangers, as well as volunteers, provide daily “interpretive programs” on the hour every hour from 10 a.m. until 10:30 pm (22:30). These talks are free.


WWII MEMORIAL REGISTRY

Unlike the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, there are no names listed at the WWII Memorial. Instead, those men killed in action are honored with the gold stars.

However, at the Ranger Station on the southern side of the memorial, you will find computer screens. These are only accessible during the day.

Here you can search for a veteran of WWII and they will provide you with information about this person and a photo if they have one.

The online WWII Memorial Registry lists Americans who contributed to the war effort, both an official list documented by government databases and an unofficial registry of anyone who helped win the war.

Any person can submit any name to the Registry of Remembrances as a "thank you" for their efforts during the war.


Honor Flights

Bob Dole at the WW2 Memorial

You may encounter an Honor Flight during your visit. Honor Flights started as a way to honor WWII veterans with a chance to visit DC, though they are now open to veterans of other wars as well.

It may be a single group from a small community or a day (usually a Saturday or Sunday) where dozen of Honor Flights are visiting the memorial.

On days when there are many attendees, you'll see greeters in 1940s garb, wreath layings, Honor Guards, and on occasion, Bob Dole!

For more information on what Honor Flights may be visiting and other ways to honor veterans, visit their website.


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About The Author

Canden Arciniega

Follow On Instagram | I'm a historian & tour guide in Washington DC with 4 published books about the city. I have written for HuffPost Travel and have been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. I've also been interviewed by the BBC, NPR, Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. I am the producer of the podcast, Tour Guide Tell All. I am an authority on D.C. history, and have led tours in the city since 2011. I currently resides in DC, but have also lived in London and South Korea, and have traveled to over 28 countries and every US State but Hawaii. I homeschool my 2 children by exploring the plethora of museums in DC. Read More...
Updated: May 21st, 2024
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