New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs
Veterans World War II Memorial at Veterans Park

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WWII Memorial delayed because fundraising lags

TRENTON – The population of “The Greatest Generation” is dwindling.

From 1990 to 2000, more than 130,000 of New Jersey’s World War II veterans either died or moved out of state. The Census Bureau estimates that by 2004 there were about 121,000 World War II veterans, most of them in their 80s, living in the Garden State, down an estimated 35,000 in four year.

“Oh my goodness, these guys are dying, more than 1,000 a day” nationwide said Jack McGreevey, chairman of New Jersey’s World War II Memorial Commission.

The state has pledged to honor its citizens who served in World War II by building a memorial in Veterans Park, directly across the street from the Statehouse in downtown Trenton. Early plans called for that monument to be dedicated this weekend.

But fundraising for the project has sputtered, with less than 2 percent of what’s needed raised to date.  An additional $5 million is needed before construction can begin.

“We pretty much have everything all set and ready to go, but under the law we can’t break ground unless we have the money on hand,” said McGreevey, a world War II veteran who was appointed chairman of the commission by his son, then-Gov. James E. McGreevey.

WWII veterans dying

“The World War II generation is leaving us at an alarming rate each day, and we would like to ideally have this thing finished so as many of them can see and enjoy it as possible,” said Gary Englert, director of the Division of Veterans Services in the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, or DMVA.

Two years ago, the younger McGreevey, who was named after an uncle who died fighting at Iwo Jima, signed an executive order establishing the commission. A similar commission was created in 1999, but disbanded before a memorial was completed.

Originally, ground was to be broken in November 2005, with the monument’s unveiling this Memorial Day weekend. State officials now say construction, whenever it starts, will take a year and that a dedication before Veterans Day in 2007 is unlikely.

And as veterans are dying, costs are rising.

In a report to the Legislature, the DMVA said the memorial’s cost is now estimated at $6.5 million, up from the $4.8 million estimated last year.

The Legislature appropriated $2 million toward the cause in 2005. The commission has raised only about $62,000 through a private fundraising drive.

The state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority had pledged to allocate $1 million to the memorial, but never did. The money “never moved because in the meantime other projects were ready to go and took precedence and as a result of which, that money has been used up,” said Tom Carver, the authority’s executive director.

“We don’t have any grant money to replace what have been used in other projects. That money has been exhausted,” Carver said.

Competing for donations

Jack McGreevey dismissed the notion that the project lost steam after his son resigned from office, saying instead that it takes time to deal with a government bureaucracy.  He pins the fundraising troubles to donors giving to other causes, such as “the hurricanes down South.”

Commission members want Gov. Corzine to “appoint a blue-ribbon fundraising panel or Commission, to assist in fundraising,” said Englert, who is also the commission’s secretary.

In January, Corzine’s transition team for military and veterans’ affairs recommended the creation of a corporate commission to raise funds necessary for the building of a World War II memorial.

“Time is of the essence due to the high mortality rate among WWII veterans,” the report states.

Corzine is committed to seeing the memorial through, said Brendan Gilfillan, his spokesman.

Through the first half of this year, the commission had been working on the design phase of the project, said Englert, who does not think the current initiative is really behind schedule. “The entire project is probably 60 years late,” he said.

New Jersey has honored its Korean War veterans with a memorial in Atlantic City and its Vietnam War vets with a memorial in Holmdel.

“It’s been a sore point for some time that World War II is relegated to the back shelf somewhere,” said veteran Tom Kindre, author of the book The Boys from New Jersey, which tells the personal stories of more than 50 of the Garden State’s veterans from World War II.

Kindre, who based his book on interviews done for the Rutgers Oral History Archives, said he understands why there has not been more of a “clamor” for a memorial.

“When we came back from the war, we didn’t talk much about it. We just fell to work. We lost time. So we were eager to build careers, get married and move ahead. And the years went by, and no one ever talked about World War II,’ Kindre said. 

Sandra Stewart Holyoak has interviewed about 700 New Jerseyans for the archive.

“Almost to a man, there are very dedicated to their families and to their country. They have a sense of loyalty and compassion… a very wonderful way of cutting right to the core of whatever needs to be done.”

More than 12,000 New Jerseyans died fighting in World War II.

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