Crews race to complete new World War II memorial

— Construction crews are working day and night to put the finishing touches on the World War II Memorial so the site soon can be opened to the public -- especially the veterans of that era, who are dying by the hundreds each day.

The memorial won't be dedicated until May 29, but project organizers decided it should unofficially open as soon as possible so the ever-dwindling number of men and women who served and were its inspiration can visit it. The fence surrounding the site is expected to come down the last week in April, allowing visitors to roam the memorial grounds.

"We just think it's important that we let the World War II veterans, especially, see it because a lot of them won't be able to make the dedication ceremony," project executive Barry Owenby said Thursday. "We don't want to hide our candle under a basket."

The Veterans Affairs Department estimates World War II vets are dying at a rate of 1,056 a day -- more than 385,000 a year. Fewer than 4 million will be alive at the time of the dedication.

The memorial sits on a 7.4-acre site on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

Two and a half years after construction began, all of the memorial's granite -- more than 17 million pounds -- and most of the bronze is in place. Crews are now busy paving sidewalks, wiring lights and working on the landscape around the memorial.

The man selected in a nationwide competition to design the memorial said it honored the sacrifices of those on the battlefield, and the resolve of a nation united.

"This is not a healing memorial, but a memorial that recalls, perhaps, the nation's finest hour," said design architect Friedrich St. Florian. "The memorial must serve to remember and to celebrate the colossal triumph of democracy over tyranny."

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