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Greatest Generation Coin will help preserve World War II Memorial for future generations

D.C. structure is beginning to show signs of wear and tear

Wreaths and flowers are seen during National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day at the World War II Memorial on Dec. 7, 2021.
Wreaths and flowers are seen during National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day at the World War II Memorial on Dec. 7, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In February of 1987, while at an annual fish fry in Jerusalem Township, Ohio, one of my constituents asked a very pointed question which had a profound impact on the landscape of our nation’s capital and on how we honor the legacy of the “Greatest Generation.” 

A local postal carrier and World War II veteran named Roger Durbin exclaimed, “Congresswoman, why is there no memorial for the veterans of World War II?” I listened and responded inquisitively — I was pretty sure there was and it was in Arlington, Va., called the Iwo Jima Memorial. With eyes filled with an unwavering resolve, Durbin told me I was wrong and said that it was the United States Marine Corps Memorial, and was only a tribute to one battle, on one front of the war.

When I checked with the Smithsonian on his assertion, they politely informed me that Durbin was indeed correct — there was no memorial for veterans of World War II. In that moment, I was struck by the weight of his inquiry — I could not believe it. How could we not have a national memorial for the most unselfish generation who sacrificed so much for our nation and the world? And so, with determination in my heart, I set out on a mission to right that profound injustice.

In December of 1987, I introduced the World War II Memorial Act to authorize the American Battle Monuments Commission to establish a World War II Memorial. It was not voted on in that Congress. I tried again twice in 1989 with similar legislation — and it did not pass. In 1993, I introduced my bill again and it passed, with companion legislation in the Senate, and was signed into law by the president on May 25 of that year.

After many more years, and many more hearings, 17 years after the idea’s inception at that local fish fry in northwest Ohio, I helped dedicate the National World War II Memorial on May 29, 2004, with Roger Durbin’s granddaughter at my side; sadly, he passed before its completion. This spring, we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the dedication. I have been fortunate to speak at many commemorations through the years at the memorial and meet our WWII veterans, visitors, volunteers and other dignitaries. There is great pride in our “Greatest Generation” and in the memorial as a fitting tribute to the everyday men and women who fought and lost their lives in World War II.

Time marches on, and the passage of years has left its mark. While the memorial may be “only” 20 years old, it is starting to show signs of wear and tear. Lighting systems need to be replaced, discoloration along its fountains has appeared, and cracks have formed. The National Park Service oversees the maintenance of the memorial and does yeoman’s work at the memorial, among the most visited sites in our nation’s capital.  Yet, the Park Service has a $23.3 billion backlog of other projects and priorities.

That is why I introduced the “Greatest Generation Commemorative Coin Act,” which was signed into law in 2022, and authorizes the Treasury Department to mint coins in commemoration of the memorial. The coin will serve as an important token of the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of the brave Americans who fought to defend our great nation and advance peace and freedom throughout the world.

The net proceeds from the sale of the coins will go to the Friends of the National World War II Memorial, a nonprofit organization founded in 2007, to maintain and repair the memorial, and to ensure educational and commemorative programming remains robust and substantial. The Friends of the National World War II Memorial play an integral and vital role in educating the American public about World War II; preserving and maintaining the National World War II Memorial as a treasure for the American people; and facilitating key commemorative programs at the memorial to pay a fitting tribute to America’s “Greatest Generation.”

The Greatest Generation Commemorative Coin will be available on Feb. 29 — and only during this calendar year. The program operates at no cost to the taxpayer. As the coins go on sale this spring, let us join together in remembrance and gratitude. By preserving this memorial, we teach the lessons of yesterday and unite the generations of tomorrow. 

Rep. Marcy Kaptur represents Ohio’s 9th District. The Democrat is the longest serving woman in the history of Congress. Kaptur currently serves as ranking member on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and is a senior member of the subcommittees on Defense and Agriculture.

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