About the War Memorial
Six Decades of History
Virginia has a proud history of honoring its heroes for their service to the Commonwealth and our Nation. Today, the Virginia War Memorial is often heralded as the premier state memorial honoring military veterans in the United States.
In 1950, five years after the end of World War II, the Virginia General Assembly authorized the building of a memorial to honor and remember the nearly 10,000 Virginians who made the ultimate sacrifice serving in the U.S Armed Forces. A design was chosen as was the location – nearly five acres overlooking the James River and downtown Richmond along U.S. Routes 1 and 301, the primary route from Maine to Florida before the construction of Interstate 95.
As construction began, America entered the Korean War and plans were changed to include the heroes of this conflict. Construction was completed in 1955 and the Memorial was officially dedicated on February 29, 1956. The Memorial celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2016.
The original Memorial consisted of an auditorium, a small visitor’s center and the Shrine of Memory where the names of Virginia’s heroes are engraved on its stone and glass walls.
There were no staff or programs as the Memorial was it considered simply a monument to the fallen. Over the next decades, the Memorial fell into disrepair. In the early 1990s, citizens across the State banded together to demand that the Memorial be saved. The Governor and General Assembly authorized a new foundation and Board of Trustees and gave it the authority to develop educational programs, hire staff and renovate and expand the Memorial.
In 1981, the Shrine of Memory was expanded to include the names of those Virginians killed in action during the Vietnam War. In 1996, the names of those who died in Desert Storm/Desert Shield were added. Today, there are nearly 12,000 heroes honored in the Shrine.
An additional Shrine called the Wall of Honor has been created that honors the more than 250 Virginians killed in the ongoing Global War on Terrorism since 2000.
In 2012 the Virginia War Memorial became a division of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services and serves as an integral part of its mission in support of all Virginians who served in our military forces.
The Paul and Phyllis Galanti Education Center
With the increased number of educational and patriotic programs, it was obvious that the Memorial’s 200-seat auditorium was no longer adequate.
The addition of the 18,000 square foot Paul and Phyllis Galanti Education Center, which opened in September 2010, dramatically changed the size and scope of the Virginia War Memorial. It also allowed the Memorial to redirect its focus to honoring all veterans through programs, events and exhibits designed to pass on their stories of service and sacrifice.
Developed and built with combination of public and private funding, the Galanti Education Center houses historical and military-related exhibits, classrooms and meeting rooms, a research library and two theaters which show the Memorial’s award-winning film ,Into Battle, and video documentary series, Virginians at War. The Center also includes the E. Bruce Heilman Amphitheater where major outdoor events such as the annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies are held.
Annual visitation to the Memorial has increase over 500% since the opening of the Galanti Education Center – from 21,000 in 2008 to over 73,000 in 2015.
Paul and Phyllis Galanti – American Heroes
In 2007, it was announced that the new Education Center would be named in honor of two American heroes, Paul and Phyllis Galanti. Each served their country beyond the call of duty during the Vietnam War.
Paul Galanti served as a Naval Aviator and was shot down after a bombing run in 1966. He suffered deprivation and torture as a POW for the next 61/2 years in North Vietnam’s infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” After his 1973 release, Galanti continued his Naval Career as Commanding Officer of the Richmond Recruiting District. He was medically retired from active duty in 1983 and began a career in private industry but continued to support the welfare of his fellow veterans.
He is the recipient of two Purple Hearts, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Navy Commendation, two Legions of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal and nine Air Medals. He was appointed Commisioner of the Virginia Department of Veteran Services in 2010 and served until 2014. Galanti currently serves on the boards of the Virginia War Memorial Foundation and the Families of the Wounded Fund.
While her husband was held prisoner, Phyllis Galanti became chairwoman of the National League of Families of American Prisoners in Southeast Asia. In this role, she tirelessly petitioned President Richard Nixon and Congress for the release of all 591 POWs held in North Vietnam. She was instrumental in creating a letter writing campaign, “Write Hanoi.” She formulated the plan, gathered financial support, and personally delivered 750,000 letters to the North Vietnamese embassy in Stockholm in 1971.
After Paul’s release and return, Phyllis continued to work tirelessly in support of active and retired military. She passed away in April 2014.
Building For The Future
The faster than anticipated growth in the Virginia War Memorial’s scope of programs and number of visitors has resulted in the need to expand the facility once again. This project will include additional classrooms and exhibit spaces, office spaces, an expanded Shrine of Memory and additional below ground parking.
Planning for this expansion is underway with construction date and projected completion date to be announced.