This year we celebrated a historic moment at the 135th NGAUS General Conference and Exhibition when Maj. Gen. Steve Danner, the association chairman, announced that the mortgage of the National Guard Memorial building had officially been paid off. The announcement of this historic moment gave us the opportunity to explore and celebrate the history of the memorial.
The original National Guard Memorial building opened in 1959 in the same location—One Massachusetts Ave., N.W.—as the current building. Before that, NGAUS was headquartered in a number of other locations around the city. Planning, fundraising and construction for the first memorial took more than five years. Features of the 1959 building included the 400-person Ellard A. Walsh Auditorium, the Milton A. Reckord Memorial Lounge and a library located on the second floor.
The dedication of the original building was a momentous occasion. More than 1,400 Guardsmen attended, many of them dressed in ceremonial uniforms to represent and pay homage to historical campaigns and events. Former U.S. President and National Guard Captain Harry S Truman delivered the dedicatory address, and current U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower sent a letter of congratulations, writing, “Your new building, symbolizing as it does the strength and eager readiness of the Guard, will serve not alone as a useful material structure but also will be a lasting reminder of the spirit of free men.”
The original building stood until the late 1980s, when it was demolished to make room for the construction of a brand new memorial at the same address. NGAUS staff members temporarily relocated to the D.C. Armory until the new building opened in 1991, 27 months after construction began.
Two notable parts of the building were missing when it first opened—the Minuteman statue currently standing in the entrance and the National Guard Memorial Museum. The statue, sculpted at the same time that Air and Army Guardsmen were being deployed for duty during the Gulf War, would be installed shortly after the initial opening. Notably, the sculptor left the Minuteman’s left hand off of the plow, signifying his readiness to go to battle in service of his country. The museum became part of the memorial building in 2003 after a massive fundraising effort, and it has expanded since then to encompass the past 377 years of Guard history.
Twenty-two years after its dedication, the National Guard Memorial building continues to stand as a testament to the Guard’s historical legacy and its bright future.
For more information about the building’s history, check out the video below.