A World War II Memorial
Editorials Page | The Star-Ledger
It's a sad commentary on New Jersey's instinctive and praiseworthy drive to erect monuments to its war heroes that there is no state memorial to the veterans of World War II.
What's remarkable is that 30 percent of the 600,000 veterans who live in New Jersey are World War II-era servicemen and women, a much higher percentage than in other states, where the average is about 15 percent.
The sailors, soldiers and Marines of World War II were universally greeted as heroes when they returned home. There was no controversy over whether it was a good war.
There was controversy about the Vietnam and Korean wars; maybe that's why many people, veterans and citizens, felt compelled to get involved in campaigns to erect memorials.
The closest the state has come to an official World War II memorial was the 1951 dedication of the Delaware Memorial Bridge linking New Jersey and Delaware. Governors of the two states dedicated the span to their World War II dead.
The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, which opened in 1995, was built with $8 million raised almost entirely by veterans themselves. It is said to be the largest state memorial in the nation. The state's Korean War Memorial opened in Atlantic City in 2001 and was built with $2 million in state and local tax dollars as well as a $1 million grant from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
But in the years following World War II, members of the "Greatest Generation" were too busy creating careers and families to worry about a New Jersey monument to their efforts.
More recently, former Gov. James E. McGreevey tried to jump-start creation of a memorial in a park across from the Statehouse in Trenton. He appointed a Commission of Vets, many in their 80s, and chaired by his father, Jack McGreevey, a former Marine drill sergeant, and a design was selected.
The former governor allocated $2 million in state money for a memorial to World War II veterans and asked the casino authority - which uses tax revenues from casinos for public projects - to set aside $1 million for the project.
At a ceremony in 2004, veterans were told to expect to see the project dedicated by Veterans Day 2005. Unfortunately, that ceremony never occurred. When McGreevey left office, the $1 million went elsewhere and the project has sputtered.
Neither former Gov. Richard Codey nor Gov. Jon Corzine has since committed any state funds to the project. Codey did give the state Department of Military and Veterans' Affairs permission to launch a private fundraising effort, but that didn't produce much. After sending out letters to corporations, the department collected a meager $65,000.
Those donations, along with the $2 million that McGreevey earmarked, are a long way from the $6.5 million estimated as needed for the proposed memorial in Trenton.
Given the tough budgetary times, it's difficult to make a case for public funding. And it's equally difficult to imagine that the aging Veterans of World War II would be able to solicit enough contributions among themselves.
What is needed is a well-organized and publicized campaign to encourage New Jerseyans of all ages to honor those who served in World War II.
Eric Spevak, a Haddonfield lawyer who has helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for National Guardsmen and women deployed to Iraq, has agreed to take on the fundraising job for free. He deserves everyone's support.
New Jerseyans got the job done in World War II, and their children and grandchildren ought to get a memorial to that effort built in 2007.
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