Tribute to a Generation
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Holmes Report
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Tribute to a Generation

On Memorial Day, May 29, 2004, The President of the United States formally dedicated a National World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington DC, 59 years after the war ended.

Paul Holmes

On Memorial Day, May 29, 2004, The President of the United States formally dedicated a National World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington DC, 59 years after the war ended.  Working for the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), Burson-Marsteller’s task was to plan, supervise and produce culminating historic events, within context of a four-day, dedication weekend. 

The WWII generation is elderly and infirm; they are dying at a rate of 1,100 a day. Reaching out to and servicing people in their mid-to-upper 80s, in large numbers at an outdoor event, is not simple event planning. We were also challenged by the extraordinary precautions necessary post-9/11, to maintain security for our national/ military leaders and our guests, yet process them quickly to their seats. The possibility of rain, the huge number of media and their needs for power and uplinks, transportation, 5,000 wheelchairs, high heat and humidity—these were just a few of the challenges we faced.

As required by law, ABMC issued an RFP for the Memorial events. In preparation, Burson-Marsteller did extensive research on all areas of the site and program, lining up key subcontractors and specialists in advance. After B-M won the bid, we refined our research and programs with ABMC. The planning process took two years.

ABMC/B-M had access to data from eight years of fundraising and working with veteran’s groups. Surveys conducted with the WWII Memorial Charter Member database through the ABMC newsletter and via personal calls enabled B-M /ABMC to understand how many people wished to attend the ceremony, their geographic location (day trip vs. overnight), mobility limitations and methods of transportation. This was crucial to building the event program, dedication site layout and transportation infrastructure.  Survey information helped determine demand for tickets, seating requirements and the location of handicap accessible areas, restrooms, portable pathways, and the number of buses we needed to retrofit. Registered attendee follow-up mailings helped us organize, schedule and ticket each weekend event.

In the year leading up to the dedication, ABMC/B-M held planning meetings with core subcontractors to develop event plans (see planning documents enclosed). We also participated in planning sessions and subcommittee teams with the National Park Service, Department of Transportation, DC Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Secret Service, Washington Metro Transit Authority, several local law enforcement agencies, the White House, Dept. of Defense and many others. The planning and coordination for this event was unprecedented, given the heightened security requirements and the number of people expected on the Mall with three U.S. presidents, the Secretary of Defense and State, the Cabinet and members of Congress, among others.

Burson-Marsteller’s main objectives were to: formally present the Memorial to the WWII generation and the country. Explain the Memorial design and symbolism, express gratitude to those who served (honor the fallen, living veterans, heroes on the home front ) and pay tribute and convey the deep respect of the nation to the WWII honorees (attendees and remote viewers) in a national act of remembrance

The primary audience was the World War II generation and their families. The team approached every program element from the perspective of a WWII generation member, and we believe this was the key to our overall success.  Secondary audiences included campaign VIPs and donors, elected officials and the media. 

Burson-Marsteller’s main strategies were to: create a dignified and appropriate experience for the WWII generation, ensure a culminating nationwide celebration by expanding audience reach through related events/media, utilize a centralized event relationship database to maximize capacity of each event and minimize surprises and provide a seamless and safe guest experience

B-M staged a two-hour pre-show to the Dedication Ceremony called Tribute that was designed to be entertaining, nostalgic and celebratory, reminiscing the WWII period through dance, music and video interludes. The stage show(s) and film clips were visible on massive LED screens throughout the venue. Meanwhile, 1000 volunteers escorted guests to their seats.

During the official ceremony, a special “Symbolism” video presented the elements of the WWII Memorial design, its importance and position on the central axis of the National Mall. President George W. Bush, along with campaign spokesperson Tom Hanks, Tom Brokaw, fundraising chairmen former Senator Bob Dole and FedEx CEO Fred Smith, and ABMC chairman General P.X. Kelley USMC (Ret), accepted the National World War II Memorial on behalf of the nation. (More detailed event program attached.) With military color, music and speeches, our nation’s leaders came to pay their respects. Capped with an F-16 flyover, the ceremony paid tribute to the service and sacrifice of the World War II generation.

The media relations work to support the dedication began months in advance with a press kit and photo CD mailing to long-lead travel, history and architectural publications/editors.  The team also established a secure Web-based credentialing process that, in the end, captured more than 800 journalists’ requests for credentials. It built two Internet-ready media filing centers, allowing the media to meet tight deadlines for special Sunday edition coverage.

The team partitioned the front riser to allow for CNN, Fox News Channel, C-SPAN, MSNBC and The History Channel to carry the Dedication Ceremony live. In addition, ABC, NBC and CBS each had a single booth with a direct sight line into the Memorial’s plaza and fountains for live feeds over three days.  Interviews were organized for more than 60 veterans with their hometown radio stations from the site. Remote broadcasts from veterans’ gatherings in other major cities were satellite-linked to the Mall producer for onsite broadcast and use by other media. The Washington Post produced a special 30 -page supplement on the Memorial weekend that became a keepsake item. The America Experience Foundation produced an educational guide for local celebrations and teachers.

Burson-Marsteller supported several other Memorial weekend events: an ABMC hosted reception for Memorial donors and guests, four “Salute to WWII Veterans” shows at the MCI Center, a “Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving” at the Washington National Cathedral, and a four-day “WWII Reunion” on the Mall in conjunction with the Smithsonian.  Tens of thousands of visitors spent the weekend shuttling between these events and related WWII exhibits.

Working with the U.S. Secret Service, DC Police, the U.S. Park Service and many other government agencies, the PR team organized an unprecedented and complex transportation infrastructure moving people to and from nearly a dozen locations in DC and Northern Virginia, and connecting multiple events.  We had to obtain buy-in and coordination from several Federal and state law enforcement jurisdictions in DC, Maryland and Virginia just to plan and execute the transportation program. 

The team also leveraged use of the Metro system to limit downtown gridlock, and worked with local medical and evacuation teams to prepare for various emergency situations, ranging from grief or illness to a potential terrorist threat.

ABMC/B-M also worked with the Washington Convention and Tourism Corp. to develop “America Celebrates the Greatest generation” an unprecedented 100-day, summer-long celebration among the national capital region’s cultural, historic and hospitality venues featuring more than 80 WWII-themed exhibitions, performances, walking tours and hotel packages, menus and discounts. Summer exhibits opened on Memorial weekend.

The Memorial was formally presented and accepted by the nation’s leaders including President George Bush and former Presidents Clinton and Bush. A full and varied program of events touched the memory of guests, entertained and honored them. The symbolism of the Memorial was presented in video and speech. In final solemn tribute, America paid respect to those who sacrificed so much for our freedom in WWII.

The ceremony reached guests on the Mall and millions more at 4,000 local American Legion celebrations, and through live broadcast and print coverage.  

On Sunday, May 30, 2004, the Memorial dedication story made the front page of just about every major newspaper in the U.S. including the front page of every section in The Washington Post.  Every TV and radio station in the country carried news of the Memorial’s opening and subsequent dedication. The coverage was so ubiquitous that calculating media impressions is virtually impossible.

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