WASHINGTON – The two World War II veterans from Edmonds, Wash., didn’t parade through blizzards of ticker tape or receive kisses from strangers when they finally returned home from combat after 1945.

And they seemed a little overwhelmed last week as they strolled around the fountains and carved granite of the new National World War II Memorial in the shadow of the Washington Monument.

“Amazing, absolutely amazing,” said John Nutting, 80, who served on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific.

“Impressive,” added Earl Horn, 79, a former artillery sergeant.

The memorial, built with $179 million in private pledges and $16 million from the federal government, officially took its place Saturday among the country’s architectural icons.

Long after the last World War II veteran is laid to rest, the memorial will seek to convey a message about the conflict that is starkly different than the message of another monument just a short walk away: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

By design, the two war memorials elicit very different responses. And those responses say much about how we remember armed conflict.

The National World War II Memorial consists of a large pool surrounded by 56 17-foot stone pillars, each bearing the name of a U.S. state or territory during the war.

Pavilions on either side of the memorial represent the two principal theatres during World War II: the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Hanging under each pavilion is a bronze wreath, a symbol of victory since Roman times. Words of generals and presidents are etched into the white granite, creating an impression of strength and permanence.

A wall of some 4,000 sculpted gold stars, each representing 100 casualties, is designed to remind future generations of their supreme sacrifice, although the memorial displays no individual names of the fallen.

“We do not want to glorify war. We want to celebrate victory,” said memorial architect Friedrich St.Florian.

And the thousands of veterans who came for the dedication seemed to appreciate the architect’s intentions.

As Nutting and Horn strolled through the memorial on Friday, school kids asked to shake their hands and take their photograph. They swapped stories with fellow vets, some of them with middle-aged children in tow.

There were laughs and hugs and chest-swelling pride.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial – and people’s reaction to it – couldn’t be more different.

There are no victory wreaths or Roman-inspired architectural themes at The Wall, simply 58,235 names on two 246-foot pieces of black stone.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is set into the earth, and 22 years after it was dedicated, visitors still leave flowers and take etchings of names to bring home.

Former Army helicopter pilot Dennis Braddock said he felt overwhelming sadness when he visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial nearly 20 years ago. He served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970.

“I cried like a baby,” said Braddock, secretary of the Washington state Department of Social and Health Services.

“It was really the first public recognition of the conflict and the loss. The World War II memorial looks like a triumphant display. The Vietnam memorial doesn’t reflect any ideal. It just reflects great loss.”

Historian Douglas Brinkley, who has written books about Vietnam and World War II, said each memorial accurately depicts how we remember the conflict it represents.

“The Vietnam memorial is an antiwar memorial. It leaves one with a sense of misadventure,” Brinkley said.

The World War II National Memorial has a different task, he said.

“Very few people doubt the imperative of throwing back Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan,” Brinkley said. “The World War II Memorial is kind of bread-and-butter. You’re looking for something stable and time-honored. It’s an elegant tribute to the World War II generation.”

With the country now involved in another overseas war, Nutting and Horn pondered what the memorial to the fallen in Iraq will one day look like.

Although history has yet to tell us whether Iraq will be remembered more like World War II or Vietnam, the two veterans, as well as Braddock and St. Florian, each uttered the same phrase during different interviews: “There is no such thing as a good war.”


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