Kelly: WWII memorial better late than never
By MIKE KELLY , RECORD COLUMNIST
Published: November 03, 2008
The Record- NorthJersey.com
Just before noon today, a handful of elderly men and women will gather across from the State House in Trenton to accept a gift that has taken far too long to deliver.
Artist's rendering of New Jersey's World War II memorial, located in a tiny park across the street from the State House in Trenton. Only 100,000 of the 600,000 New Jerseyans who served in the war are alive to see it.
No, this is not another political bribe or even a semi-sleazy pay-to-play campaign donation.
This gift comes in bronze, copper, granite and memories — a memorial to New Jersey's World War II veterans.
It's about time.
World War II ended more than 63 years ago. What took us so long to honor the veterans?
Today's gathering is essentially an inspection tour by the memorial's commissioners. The memorial will be formally dedicated next week.
It won't come soon enough.
More than 600,000 New Jerseyans served in that vast conflict. About 100,000 of those veterans are still alive, and their average age is 84.
So each day, the number of World War II vets dwindles. Indeed, in the nine years since the memorial was first proposed, three of the nine memorial committee members who were World War II veterans have died.
Stephen Abel, a retired Army colonel and New Jersey's deputy commissioner of veterans affairs, recalls that one of those vets — former Marine Albert Martis — often jokingly asked whether he might be alive to see the memorial.
"Sadly," Abel said, "he died three years ago."
Martis' death underscores an unfortunate fact of life — and death — that has for years gnawed at the conscience of New Jersey's politicians and veterans' leaders. Would New Jersey build a World War II memorial while enough veterans from that conflict were still alive to appreciate it? Or would the state continue to drop the ball?
"I don't know why it took them so long," said Leonard "Bud" Lomell of Toms River. He was a member of an elite Army Ranger unit that braved continuous machine gun fire to climb steep cliffs overlooking Normandy's Omaha Beach on D-Day to destroy German artillery.
"Don't forget. There have been other wars," said Lomell, 88, one of several veterans slated to speak at next week's dedication.
What held up the memorial anyway?
Money? Politics? Laziness?
Few answers seemed to make sense.
After all, New Jersey managed to build a Vietnam War memorial on a hillside in Holmdel overlooking the Garden State Parkway. A few years later, the state dedicated a Korean War memorial on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
Did New Jersey sink into a collective amnesia when it came to remembering a global war that left us with the horrors of the Holocaust and atomic weaponry? Did the Garden State stop caring that 15,000 of its citizens were killed in battles that stretched from the Europe's forests and Africa's deserts to the cold, choppy waters of the North Atlantic and the jungles of Asia and the South Pacific?
In some ways, New Jersey was only following a pattern set by the federal government. In Washington, D.C., a Vietnam War memorial was opened almost two decades before one for World War II.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, a commission was finally created — but not until 1999. And even when the commission organized itself well enough to start work more than a year later, it encountered a classic New Jersey problem: The swath of land in Jersey City initially selected as the site for the memorial turned out to be polluted with toxins.
Finally, the commission set its sights on Trenton and a tiny park across from the State House where a town house had burned and another simply collapsed — leaving behind a vacant tract.
Initially, the Legislature promised $2 million in state funds, with another $1 million from the Casino Redevelopment Authority. But with the overall cost estimated at $6 million, that meant that the commission would have to raise $3 million — not an easy task.
After several more frustrating years, the state kicked in about $6.5 million of what had become a $7 million project.
But it's still not finished.
Today, the memorial's centerpiece statue of "Lady Victory" will be set in place. So will a copper dome above the statue, another statue depicting a soldier in battle and various displays that include photos, posters and letters — including a letter from Princeton's Albert Einstein to President Franklin Roosevelt in which Einstein mentions his research on the atomic bomb. There's even a photo of Yogi Berra, not as a Yankee but as a sailor at D-Day.
But money still needs to be raised, in particular for several small bronze sculptures that can't be erected yet.
This doesn't seem to matter for many veterans who waited patiently. They have their memorial.
Back to News Archive