WWII Memorial Dedication Planning in High Gear

WASHINGTON _ Washington is used to handling large crowds, from hundreds of thousands of antiwar demonstrators to marchers on both sides of the abortion debate to July 4th frolickers who fill the Mall yearly.

But next Saturday’s dedication of the National World War II Memorial will be different. The ceremony is only an hour and a half long, but the planning for an expected crowd of 200,000 people that will consist mostly of octogenarians has almost redefined the term “logistics.”

Among the unusual features of the celebration will be a paramedic bike patrol toting external defibrillators; a team of missing-person detectives to track down elderly visitors who get lost or end up in a hospital; and roving grief counselors for veterans overcome by the emotion of the moment.

There will be a rapid-response team of Metrorail mechanics to fix elevator or escalator outages at stations near the Mall; low-sodium, low-cholesterol offerings by food concessionaires; folding chairs for 117,000 spectators; 400,000 free bottles of water; cooling tents; wheelchair ramps; and motorized stretchers. Notes have been sent by many tour leaders to their elderly charges: Bring appropriate medications, a hat for the sun, an extra pair of eyeglasses, a brief medical history and a primary care physician’s telephone number.

“I’m really not very worried about a lot of things because we have worked so hard and for so long that we really have covered a lot of bases and thought about a lot of problems or scenarios,” said Betsy Glick, spokeswoman for the American Battle Monuments Commission, which oversaw the fundraising and construction of the $174million memorial and is sponsoring the dedication ceremony.

“But I do pray for a nice, partly sunny, mild-temperature day on Saturday,” she said. “That’s what I worry about.”

And she should be worried, weather forecasters say.

The weather over previous Memorial Day weekends does not bode well, said Ed Adams, the manager of forensics services at AccuWeather.

“The odds are if you don’t have a hot weekend, you’re going to end up with a wet weekend,” said Adams, who reviewed weather patterns on Memorial Day weekends for the past four years and found either rainy days or high temperatures.

“There’s not a very good chance that you’re going to get through a whole (holiday) weekend cool and dry,” he said.

The weather is the variable no one can control for the dedication of the memorial. But just about everything else has been taken care of. One tour company bringing in 205 veterans and their caregivers from around the country will send the vets to the ceremony armed with bag lunches containing healthy sandwiches, oranges, granola bars and two bottles of water. It has even sent out a don’t-worry-the-cicadas-are-harmless flier.

Speakers at the dedication ceremony, scheduled to begin at 2 p.m., will include President Bush, actor Tom Hanks, TV news anchor Tom Brokaw and the co-chairmen of the fundraising committee for the monument, former U.S. senator Bob Dole and FedEx Chairman Fred Smith. The ceremonial bands of the Military District of Washington will perform musical tributes. Former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and dozens of members of Congress are expected to attend, Glick said.

But the guests of honor will be the thousands of World War II veterans _ the youngest believed to be 76 years old and most several years older _ and the other men and women who actively worked in the war effort. Sixty-five percent of the 117,000 free tickets for seats at the event were requested by that age group, Glick said. Among the ticketed people, 2,500 are wheelchair-bound, and there are at least 1,740 using canes, 14 using walkers, 39 with oxygen tanks and three with seeing-eye dogs, she said.

Organizers are asking younger visitors to be indulgent, said Bill Line, a spokesman for the National Park Service, which will take over management of the memorial following the dedication. “Obviously, the World War II generation may not be able to move as fast as others. We would ask other people not of that age group to exercise extra patience in honor of” them, Line said. “This is their memorial.”