Thursday, April 8, 2004

For Barry Owenby, the National World War II Memorial “is the most worthwhile thing I’ve done in my whole life — except for getting married. It’s been a dream.”

Mr. Owenby is project executive for the American Battle Monuments Commission, which has overseen the memorial’s construction.

Yesterday, he led a tour of the memorial, which will open at the end of April, a month before its formal dedication May 29.

“We’re actually finishing early,” Mr. Owenby said, pointing to three months of adverse weather that would have allowed his contract to extend well past its planned completion date of March 5. Instead of finishing the last week of June, as the contract would allow, Mr. Owenby expects to be finished six weeks ahead of that altered deadline.

The family of World War II veteran Robert Reif visited the memorial yesterday out of respect for their husband and father, who died in 1999.

“I think it’s beautiful,” Pam Frohman said, thinking of her father. “He would have loved it.”

Mrs. Frohman, 49, drove from Carlisle, Pa., with her mother, Dotty Reif, and sister, Deb Turner, 51. They wanted to see the memorial before it became too crowded.

“It’s about time,” said Mrs. Reif, 75.

She smiled as she examined the memorial that she had donated money to help build. “I had only seen pictures,” she said.

Mr. Owenby said he hopes the memorial will be just as meaningful for the families of other veterans who have died.

“I tell a lot of people who lost a father or a grandfather they wished could see the memorial, ‘They are seeing the memorial. They’re just seeing it from a different place and a different perspective,’” he said.

The cost of the memorial is estimated at $172 million, less than the $194 million budgeted for the project, officials said yesterday.

The monuments commission was authorized in 1993 to establish a national World War II Memorial. The site on the Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial was chosen in 1995, but construction did not begin until September 2001.

Passers-by can peer through the construction fence to catch a glimpse of the latest addition to the Mall.

Lights gleam around the edge of a recently filled fountain, which is surrounded by 56 granite pillars. The pillars hold large bronze laurel wreaths that represent the 48 states, seven U.S. protectorates and territories, and the District.

By the end of next week, 24 bronze sculptured panels depicting activities and events characteristic of the war effort at home and abroad are expected to be installed. They depict the landing on France’s Normandy beachhead, women in military service and as civilians involved in aircraft construction, war bond drives, the liberation of Europe and victory over Japan.

The decision to open the grounds several weeks before the Memorial Day weekend dedication was made in part because World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 1,200 a day, said retired Gen. P.X. Kelly, chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission and former Marine Corps commandant.

As of Sept. 30, there were an estimated 4,369,500 living World War II veterans, according to Census Bureau material compiled by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Besides honoring the 16 million men and women who served in uniform, the monument also is a testimony to the civilian war effort and the role American industry played in the defeat of tyranny, officials said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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