A nationwide design competition drew 400 submissions involving architecs from around the country. Friedrich St. Florian's initial design was selected in 1997. Over the next four years, St. Florian's design was altered during the review and approval process required of proposed memorials in Washington, D.C.
The final design consists of 56 pillars, each 17 feet (5 m) tall, arranged in a semicircle around a plaza with two 43-foot (13 m) arches on opposite sides. Each pillar is inscribed with the name of one of the 48 U.S. states of 1945, as well as the District of Columbia, the Alaska Territory and Territory of Hawaii, the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The northern arch is inscribed with "Atlantic"; the southern one, "Pacific." The plaza is 337 ft, 10 in (103.0 m) long and 240 feet, 2 inches (73.2 m) wide, is sunk 6 feet (1.8 m) below grade, and contains a pool that is 246 feet 9 inches by 147 feet 8 inches (75.2 × 45.0 m).
Sculptor Raymond Kaskey created the bronze eagles and wreaths that were installed under the arches, and 24 bronze bas-relief panels that depict wartime scenes of combat and the home front.