Aging veterans make it through historic day in good shape

WASHINGTON – Of the more than 140,000 people estimated to have attended the World War II Memorial dedication Saturday, only 110 required medical attention with 30 of them going to hospitals.

Most of those treated went to nine medical tents near the new memorial and along the National Mall.

D.C. Fire Department spokesman Alan Etter said two people suffered from chest pains. One, a 93-year-old man, was placed in an ambulance about 3 p.m.

But Etter said the man rested for a few minutes then “got up fresh as a daisy, grabbed his cane and went off. We can’t force them to go to the hospital.”

Etter said the other injuries included twisted ankles or bruises from falls.

One man broke his nose in a fall and a man with Alzheimer’s disease became disoriented.

On a sunny day with temperatures in the mid-70s, workers at some of the nine first aid tents on the Mall near the memorial said they were handing out water, sunscreen and bandages. They were also checking blood pressure, wrapping injured knees and washing eyes that had gotten sunscreen in them.

“People have been using common sense,” said Navy Cmdr. J. Shay, who was staffing one of the medical tents. “They have been staying hydrated. Everybody was prepared for more cases, given the age group. We’ll be lucky if things continue this way.”

The Veterans Affairs Department deployed several dozen counselors to help people deal with the emotions of the day. Counselor Arto Woods talked with a distraught veteran who sat by a tree after telling his war story to others in a tent.

“He just needed someone to talk with,” Woods said. “He was thinking, why did he survive compared with others he knew in his unit?”

Helping hands
Former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, sitting next to each other on the stage, jumped up to help a Medal of Honor winner who fell from his wheelchair near them; the man stayed for the rest of the event after a medic checked him.

Saving the world
At a morning service at Washington National Cathedral, dignitaries spoke of celebration and thanksgiving.

The elder Bush, a Navy pilot shot down over the South Pacific in 1944, said the World War II generation was remarkable for the challenges it faced, but Americans today, as in any point of history, can rise to the same level of commitment.

“These were average men and women who lived in extraordinary times,” said Bush, who turns 80 on June 12. Singling out the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944, he paid tribute to the millions of fighters who “helped save the world.”

Late tribute
Many veterans lamented that the nation’s tribute came too late for their comrades.

“I wish they would have done it much sooner because there’s a lot of people from that generation who are gone,” said Don LaFond, 81, a Marine Corps veteran from Marina del Rey, Calif.

No disagreement here
President George W. Bush and his Democratic presidential opponent, Vietnam veteran John Kerry, used their weekly radio addresses to praise the service of those honored.

Kerry said of World War II veterans: “When the future hung in the balance, they stood on the edge of tyranny and devastation and risked their lives for a future and a hope bigger than themselves.”

The president, born a year after the war ended, asked “every man and woman who saw and lived World War II, every member of that generation, to please rise as you are able and receive the thanks of our great nation.”

The National World War II Memorial was authorized by Congress in 1993.

Construction began in September 2001 after several years of fund raising and public hearings.

May 25: President Clinton authorizes the American Battle Monuments
Commission to establish a World War II memorial in Washington.

Oct. 6-7: The House and Senate pass a joint resolution approving the
location of the memorial in the capital’s monumental core area because of its lasting historic significance to the nation.

Jan. 20: Seven potential sites are considered for the memorial, including the Reflecting Pool area, the Tidal Basin, Constitution Gardens, the Washington Monument grounds and adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery.

Sept. 19: The Rainbow Pool site is approved by the Commission of Fine Arts.

Oct. 5: The Rainbow Pool site is approved by the National Capital Planning Commission.

Nov. 11: President Clinton dedicates the memorial site in a formal ceremony.

April 19: An open design competition for the memorial is held.

Aug. 15-16: More than 400 entries are reviewed; six finalists are named.

Oct. 30-31: The evaluation board recommends unanimously that the Leo A. Daly team with Friedrich St. Florian as design architect be selected.

March 19: Former senator Bob Dole is named national chairman of the memorial campaign.

July-September: The Commission of Fine Arts and National Capital Planning Commission approve the memorial’s final architectural design.

Nov. 11: A groundbreaking ceremony attended by 15,000 people is held at the memorial’s Rainbow Pool site.

Jan. 23: Construction permit issued by the National Park Service.

March 9: Construction, which was to begin in March, is delayed pending resolution of a lawsuit filed by the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, and a procedural issue involving the National Capital Planning Commission.

May 21-22: The House and Senate pass legislation directing that the memorial be constructed expeditiously.

June 7: Tompkins Builders and Grunley-Walsh Construction are awarded a $56 million construction contract.

Aug. 27: Tompkins/Grunley-Walsh begin site preparation. Construction begins one week later.

May 29: Official dedication of the memorial.