Tribute to valor is delayed
By Wayne Woolley – Star Ledger Staff
The drive to raise money for a New Jersey World War II memorial is faltering and the project will not be completed until November 2007 at the earliest.
It was supposed to be unveiled today.
Only about $65,000 has been raised by a 13-member state panel former Gov. James E. McGreevey created in 2004 to seek $5 million in donations. The memorial would be built in a small park across from the Statehouse in Trenton and its price tag is now estimated at $6.5 million.
Members of the World War II Memorial Advisory Commission were dealt another setback several months ago when they learned an expected $1 million grant from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority had disappeared. CRDA executive director Tom Carver told The Star-Ledger last week the money was spent on other projects after McGreevey left office and construction of the memorial was delayed.
Faced with the setbacks, the advisory Commission has decided to turn to its allies in Trenton and noted fundraiser Eric Spevak, a South Jersey attorney who has raised money for deployed National Guard troops.
Last week, Assemblyman Neil Cohen (D-Union) introduced legislation to add $5 million to the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs budget for war memorials. In January, Assemblyman Jack Connors (D-Burlington) sponsored legislation to allow people to contribute to memorial construction and upkeep on their tax returns.
Members of the advisory Commission said they need all the help they can get.
“We have the design. We’re ready to build. We just don’t have the money,” said Ben Roth, an 84-year old veteran of the Army Air Corps and former state commander of the Jewish War Veterans. “I hope I’m breathing long enough to see it done.”
‘A RACE AGAINST TIME’
New Jersey is home to nearly 600,000 veterans; nearly one-third served in World War II. Although several other states have more veterans, few have a higher percentage who served in World War II.
That statistic is not lost on Stephen Abel, secretary of the World War II commission. He also directs veterans services for the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which oversees the Brigadier General William C. Doyle Cemetery, a veterans cemetery in Arneytown, Burlington County, where more than 2,500 World War II veterans were buried last year.
With most World War II veterans in their 80s and the federal Veterans Administration forecasting their mortality rate to peak in 2009, Abel said the push to finish the memorial is “a race against time.” Nationally, it is estimated World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 1,200 a day.
The national World War II Memorial on the mall in Washington, D.C., was not dedicated until two years ago – almost six full decades after the war ended.
The New Jersey effort got under way in the summer of 2004 when McGreevey signed an executive order creating the memorial commission. The legislature later approved spending $2 million for design and initial construction.
Officials moved quickly, spending about $400,000 to design a memorial that will include touch-screen kiosks.
But fundraising sputtered. In an attempt to jump-start the effort, Gov. Richard Codey last spring signed legislation allowing the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to take an active role in raising the money.
The department sent out letters to the state’s 220 largest corporations, but “it yielded almost nothing,” Abel said.
As the fundraising foundered, commission members also learned that the casino authority had pulled its grant. Executive Director Tom Carver said the agency has been directed by Gov. Jon Corzine to focus its efforts on spending money on projects that bring “economic development.”
“The CRDA is not the Christmas Tree,” Carver said.
TURNING TO THE STATE
New Jersey has two major war memorials.
The largest, the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial and Vietnam Era Educational Center, opened in 1995 and was built with $8 million, raised almost entirely by war veterans. 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 CRDA grant.
Cohen, the assemblyman from Union, said the state should pay for the balance of the World War II memorial. Legislation he introduced last week would allocated $70 million for state parks and another $5 million for construction of the memorial and upkeep on the others.
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