By DIANE R. CHODAN
The Dunkirk-Fredonia Lions Club was kind enough to ask me along on last spring's trip to Washington D.C., It was an assignment for the OBSERVER, but it was something I wanted to do anyway. My goal had once been to teach high school social studies, and I had concentrated in American history.
My preference has always been social history. Logical descriptions of battles that sound like chess games leave me cold. Flanking actions and pincer movements are hard for me to comprehend. Somewhere in all of that there are human bodies and terrible loss.
J. Carter Rowland poses with two servicewomen at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. last spring.
Still the symbolism of the war monuments, especially the World War II monument that Rolland Kidder explained so thoroughly, was fascinating to me. Historical bas-relief sculptures depicted famous scenes, including those that occurred on the homefront. The bronze sculptured rope connecting the pavilions representing each of the states, territories and the District of Columbia symbolize the unity of the country. A display of 4,000 gold stars represent the over 400,000 casualties. The detail was amazing; the monument was awe-inspiring.
Kidder also explained how controversial the effort to build the monument was. It amazed me that the monument to the war which saw so much unity encountered so much controversy. Kidder reported there were 24 hearings about the monument.
Once I had time to take in the details of the monuments, the reactions to them by the veterans on the trip, and just reflect, it seemed peculiar that the monuments were built in reverse chronological order - that is the monument to the most recent war, Vietnam, was built first, the Korean War second, and the World War II monument last.
When I talked to Kidder about this after his presentation to the Lions Club, he said that the Vietnam memorial was necessary to attempt to heal a wounded country. No doubt; Vietnam deeply divided the country. Kidder, a veteran himself, called it a "war of choice."
Something else is peculiar; there is no national monument to the veterans who served in the First World War. Frank Buckles, the last living American veteran of that conflict died on Feb 27, 2011. He was 110. In 2008, he visited Washington, D.C. and asked that the District of Columbia War Memorial on the National Mall be restored and rededicated as a National and District of Columbia World War I Memorial.
There is a website for the World War I Memorial Foundation (www.wwimemorial.com) which is looking for private donations to accomplish this task. Its website says that the memorial's restoration was celebrated.
There is also a bill in Congress, H.R. 938 titled Frank Buckles Memorial World War I. It was introduced Mar. 8, 2011. Subcommittee hearings were held on Jan. 24, 2012. This bill is more ambitious than the restoration of the monument. It includes a commemorative effort to last from 2014 through 2018, including a rededication of the Liberty Memorial of Kansas City as the National World War Museum and Memorial, programs, projects, and activities to commemorate the centennial of World War I, and a Commission to oversee this. It calls for an appropriation of $1 million from 2012 through 2019.
Whether or not this bill passes, it makes interesting reading, especially Section 2 Findings which points out that more than 4 million men and women served in uniform including future presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Also interesting is research into the "War to end all wars," which this country entered toward its end and Frank Buckles himself, who after serving in World War 1 was a civilian prisoner of war during World War II.
As Rolland Kidder said, "We should remember American history - all of it."
Diane Chodan is an OBSERVER Staff Writer. Comments may be sent to email@example.com