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New Signs Considered to Prevent World War II Memorial Wading

A local resident enjoys a moment with father and mother, May 23, 2004, at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
A local resident enjoys a moment with father and mother, May 23, 2004, at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The National Park Service is eyeing the possibility of increasing or updating signage at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., as rangers struggle to enforce a prohibition on wading in the memorial's fountain.

It's a perennial summer headache. The mercury climbs, and footsore tourists on the National Mall abandon decorum and jump into the shallow fountain at the World War II Memorial to cool down. Several signs are posted informing visitors that wading is off-limits out of respect for the memorial, but the hotter the day, the less these signs seem to matter.

A photograph obtained by Military.com in June shows dozens of visitors sitting on and along the lip of the fountain at the center of the memorial. Five children wade in the water, while several women film them on cell phones. A similar image was captured by The Washington Post on June 26.

A spokesman for the National Park Service, Mike Litterst, told Military.com he was well aware of the issue.

"It happens every summer when the weather gets warm," he said.

Litterst said the Park Service was considering making changes to make the no-wading policy more clear and eliminate the possibility of misunderstanding.

"We are looking at changing the signage at the memorial to help clarify the issue of wading in the fountain," he said. "While no final decisions have been made, we are considering things such as the wording on the signs, the number of signs placed around the memorial and their locations, and even adding some signs in languages other than English."

Litterst did not say when a decision might be made.

For now, the issue of wading appears to be a mild irritant for memorial visitors and a long-standing challenge for rangers.

When a reporter paid a visit to the memorial around noon on June 29, the temperature hovered in the low 80s and a few people sat near the fountain, though no one waded.

A National Park Service volunteer for the World War II Memorial, who asked that his name not be used, said he and other volunteers, who provide information and guest assistance, can inform visitors of the rules, but cannot enforce them. When school groups start visiting the memorial in the summer, it's almost impossible to keep everyone out of the water, he said.

"Tweens are the worst," he added.

Adryana Slagle, from Reston, Virginia, visited the memorial with her two small children and the children's grandfather, visiting from California. While the children closely observed some ducklings swimming in one of the memorial's water features, they stayed on the dry path.

"I can see how [wading] would be disrespectful," Slagle said. "I wouldn't personally do it."

Andrew Coughlin, a spokesman for the nonprofit organization Friends of the World War II Memorial, told Military.com that many veterans of the war and their families have made clear they don't like it when people wade in the fountain.

Coughlin, whose grandfather was an Army veteran of World War II, said he realizes that the National Park Service has limited resources to make sure the rules are followed.

"It is up to the people who visit the memorial to pay homage and respect and have the discretion to make sure they're not crossing the boundaries of the memorial," he said.

For some, lack of respect for the rules of the memorial is tantamount to disrespect for the veterans it was built to honor. Opened in 2004, the memorial is a frequent destination for Honor Flights -- groups of World War II veterans flown to Washington, D.C., from around the country as a gesture of gratitude.

"My dad and I were here on an Honor Flight and as he read the names of the battles, he was very quiet and you could see he was reliving some of those times," a commenter wrote on the Friends of the World War II Memorial Facebook page. "This memorial was built for them. It was not built for your entertainment. Be respectful. Show some restraint."

It may be hard to communicate that message to all passersby on a hot summer day, though.

"It's an interesting dilemma," Coughlin said. "We want to pay tribute to the veterans, but it's also a tourist attraction."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@HopeSeck.

Related Topics

Headlines Military Memorials World War II Veterans Hope Seck

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