ARLINGTON, Va. — The famous bronze U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial overlooking Washington that depicts Marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima during World War II has begun turning green with age but now will be restored with a $5.37 million gift.
Philanthropist David Rubenstein announced Wednesday that he will give the National Park Foundation the funds needed to wash, wax and restore the memorial and refurbish its plaza and landscaping. Improvements are also planned for the memorial's signage and access for visitors. The project will also restore the memorial's engravings to be much brighter.
The 61-year-old memorial honors all who have given their lives in the U.S. Marine Corps. It depicts a famous incident of World War II after a bloody battle when the Americans moved to capture the island of Iwo Jima to help bring the war to an end. The monument's depiction was inspired by a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal.
The restoration effort will be the first comprehensive refurbishment of the memorial since it was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954, though it has had routine maintenance over the years, said National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis.
David Rubenstein has built a fortune as co-founder of The Carlyle Group investment firm and has become a leading philanthropist in Washington, making multimillion-dollar gifts to restore the Washington Monument, expand the Kennedy Center and to improve historic sites.
"Iwo Jima was one of the most brutal battles in our country's history," he said. "Whenever something is restored or made better, it tends to attract more visitors. When you attract more visitors, more people learn about history and about the things that led to the memorial."
Rubenstein said the $5.37 million gift is meant to honor the country and the Marine Corps — and also his father because he was a Marine who served in the Pacific during World War II. After the war, his father, Robert Rubenstein, worked as a U.S. Post Office clerk for the remainder of his working life. Robert Rubenstein died two years ago at age 85.
"I just wish my husband could have been here for it," said 84-year-old Bettie Rubenstein, the donor's mother. "But I think he is looking down on us, realizing how proud we are of our son."
About 230,000 people visit the Marine Corps memorial each year. Structurally, the sculpture is sound, park officials said. But it has begun to show wear and tear over time.
The granite base will be polished, and cracked segments of the surrounding plaza will be replaced. Restoring the memorial's original bronze color will be the most noticeable difference.
"These are our icons. We should be extraordinarily proud of these sites, and we want them to look their best," Jarvis said. "Over time they become a little worn. It's important that we go back in and freshen them up."
Work is expected to begin this summer, and the project is expected to take about two years to complete. The memorial site will remain open to the public.
Separately, the Park Service hopes to win approval from Congress to add restrooms at the memorial in the coming years, Jarvis said. For now, there are only port-a-potties because of a legislative prohibition on building any new structures at the site.
Rubenstein's gift is part of a larger capital campaign as the Park Service approaches its 100th anniversary in 2016. The National Park Foundation, the federal agency's philanthropic partner, is working to raise private to support to protect historic sites and encourage more people to visit.
"We do hope that this is an inspiration" for others to make similar gifts, said Foundation President Dan Wenk.