On May 29, 117,000 ticket-holding veterans and their families gathered under sunny skies on the Mall in Washington, D.C. to witness the dedication of the long awaited National World War II Memorial.
Over a five-year period I interviewed over 600 World War II veterans and their families on the Boothbay peninsula for my books Southport: The War Years and Heroes Among Us. Many of these veterans have since passed away or were unable to attend the dedication due to health reasons. I not only attended the ceremony on the 29th as a reporter, I attended as the proud daughter and niece of five World War II veterans and as a proxy for “my” veterans who couldn’t make the trip. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs census, 29,317 World War II veterans lived in Maine as of the year 2000.
Eager spectators lined up as early as 6 a.m. Streets in the capital were shut down for blocks surrounding the event, and special shuttle buses and golf carts transported veterans to and from the site.
It was a final closure to me in many ways. For my books, whose research and writing consumed a large part portion of my life. For my family and friends, living and deceased, and for the American citizen in me, who couldn’t help but be awed by monument itself. As I walked through and read the wartime inscriptions from past presidents and generals, found the battles engraved in granite my father’s outfit fought in, and watched the veterans spontaneously greeted and thanked for their service by well-wishers from all over the country. It was overwhelming for both them and for me. This is a generation who came out of the Depression and faced world war head-on. They never missed a beat and when it was all over, they went on with their lives, and neatly tucked away what they had done for their country.