Wading in the World War II Memorial

A view of the whole World War II Memorial, taken from the top of the Washington Monument in 2007.  The large fountain in the central plaza has become popular for waders on hot summer days in Washington, despite the best efforts of the National Park Service.

 

When it comes to memorials, I’ve never thought twice about simply taking for granted that wading in the pools of a memorial is simply against the rules.  However,  Tim Krepp,  writing at the blog Greater Greater Washington, makes a very interesting, and even a persuasive case, that the National Park Service should allow wading in the large central fountain of the World War II Memorial.  On the hot and humid days of a typical Washington, DC summer that would certainly be refreshing for both adults and kids alike – but really, wading in a memorial?   That can’t be right, can it?

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The central fountain of the World War II Memorial – without anyone currently wading in it. Photo from 2015.

 

For sure, I have to imagine that there would be some large practical obstacles to this.  After all, if the large summer crowds that descend upon Washington’s Monumental Core during the spring and summer all started cooling their feet in the pool, then a much more advanced system of water treatment would surely be needed.   Just as importantly, the central pool was designed with a large number of fountains, and before people could safely wade in the pool, I imagine that those structures that create the beautiful spires of water in the foundtain would need to be removed:

This picture from March 2008 shows the underlying waterworks infrastructure beneath the central pool in the World War II Memorial.
This picture from March 2008 shows the underlying waterworks infrastructure beneath the central pool in the World War II Memorial.

 

However, Krepp’s argument isn’t primarily a practical one but a reflection on the nature of how a memorial’s design influences what a memorial design.  Definitely go over to the Greater Greater Washington blog and check it out yourself.  In a nutshell, however, Krepp points out that the design of the World War II Memorial isn’t really one of quiet contemplation.  Instead its collonades draw visitors in to a wide open plaza and gathering space.  In this sense, it really stands in contrast to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also known as the Vietnam Wall.  As Krepp points out, hardly anyone needs a sign to know that the atmostphere at the Vietnam Memorial is one of quiet contemplation.

I find it hard to argue with that point – and if the atmosphere of the World War II Memorial is one of welcoming and gathering, then wouldn’t letting kids (and parents) wade in the pools on a hut summer day just fit in with the very design of what the memorial is trying to do?  Its certainly counter-intuitive, but it is straight-forward to see the case for how a place for Americans to gather, relax, and refresh, in the heart of downtown Washington would in fact be a celebration of the very freedom that so many gave their lives in the Second World War to defend.

The rear pool of the World War II Memorial commemorates the thousands of Americans  who died in the war.  This photo is from the Victory in Europe Day commemoration on May 8, 2015.
The rear pool of the World War II Memorial commemorates the thousands of Americans who died in the war. This photo is from the Victory in Europe Day commemoration on May 8, 2015.

 

That’s not to say that the memorial doesn’t aim for reflection.  Each end of the memorial contains a pavillion inscribed with the names of the major battles of the Atlantic and Pacific theatres of the war, respectively.  Moreover, the back wall of the memorial has a small reflecting pool and some 4,048 gold stars – one star for every 100 Americans who died during the war.  Certainly, I think it would be hard to support wading in this particular area of the memorial.  Yet, as staggering as it is to contemplate more than 400,000 lives lost in the fight for freedom during the Second World War, there’s no question that this memorial’s vast spaces and towering pillars somehow seem to overpower the overall impression of contemplation and rememberance that the stars are designed to invoke.  If you look at the first photo in this post, taken from the top of the Washington Monument, you can see the “Freedom Wall” of gold stars in the center back of the memorial, and how it fits into the overall space and design of this memorial, and I think you will see what I (and Tim Krepp) mean.

Anyhow, the argument is worth reading in full, so I encourage you to to go check it out.

Would letting a little girl like this little Stegosaurus wade  in the fountain show lack of respect to the memorial?  Or acknowledge the memorial's design as a public gathering space?
Would letting a cute girl like this little Stegosaurus wade in the fountain show lack of respect to the memorial? Or acknowledge the memorial’s design as a public gathering space?  After all you *know* she’s thinking about it!   Photo from 2015.

Correction: This post was originally published stating that David Koch, who also blogs at Greater Greater Washington had written the post on wading in the World War II Memorial. In fact, the post at Greater Greater Washington was written by Tim Krepp.  The above post has been corrected.

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