Virginia War Memorial
Backstory and Context
As the victory parades faded and our veterans came back home from World War II, talk of a fitting memorial to our Virginia heroes and their sacrifice, bravery, and service swept the Commonwealth. The General Assembly of Virginia first authorized the Memorial in 1950. Governor John S. Battle made the initial appropriation and Leslie Cheek was appointed professional advisor and supervised an architectural competition to choose the design. The result was the selection of architect S. J. Collins of Staunton, Virginia.
Before the Memorial planning was complete, the United States found itself again plunged into war. After the Korean Ceasefire in 1953, plans were changed to include the Korean War with World War II. Construction was completed in 1955, and the Memorial was dedicated February 29, 1956.
Over the years during and after the Vietnam War, the military of our country was held in low regard – likewise, the Virginia War Memorial fell into a state of disrepair during this time. After a general outcry from across the state to fix our state memorial in the early 1990s, the Governor and General Assembly changed the governance of the memorial from an advisory commission to a foundation. This gave the Memorial’s Board of Trustees the authority to develop and implement educational programs, hire staff, repair and expand the memorial. By the late 1990s, the memorial had been completely renovated and several award-winning educational programs had been developed. The programs completely overwhelmed our one 200 seat auditorium.
With a combination of public and private funding, plans were developed for the Paul and Phyllis Galanti Education Center – an 18,000 square foot facility to house the Memorial’s education programs and to provide administrative space for the staff. This facility, comprised of exhibit space, classrooms, research library, theaters, a 500 seat amphitheater, conference room, and Memorial Store was completed and dedicated in September 2010.
During this time, the number of visitors to the Memorial constantly increased. From 9,200 annual visitors in 2002 to over 21,000 in 2008 reflected the addition of events, exhibits, and the Memorial’sVirginians at War documentary video series. With the addition of the Galanti Education Center in 2010, the next year saw attendance jump to over 45,000.
With this faster than anticipated growth, the Memorial’s parking lot became more and more inadequate. In 2011, a Pre-Planning Study was completed that included construction of a 220 car below ground parking deck located where the existing surface parking lot now exists. The project also included office space for the Department of Veterans Services, additional classroom and exhibit space, and a Memorial to honor Virginians killed in the War on Terrorism. This project, with the Governor’s approval was funded by the General Assembly in its budget for fiscal year 2013. Selection of an architect/engineer to design this project is now in progress. Construction is scheduled to begin in FY2014.
The Virginia War Memorial is heralded by many as the premier state memorial to honor its veterans in the United States. With its monthly patriotic programs, educational programs for students and teachers, research library, exhibits, documentary videos to teach history, and near virtual reality film, Virginia’s War Memorial honors our fallen heroes by passing their stories of sacrifice forward to future generations.