A salute to WWII veterans
Published: October, 2008
Veterans Day dedication slated
TRENTON -- Their numbers diminishing, members of the World War II generation in New Jersey will finally have a memorial of their own on Veterans Day.
The New Jersey World War II Memorial will be dedicated across West State Street from the Statehouse on Nov. 11 at 2:30 p.m., nearly 10 years after the project was first planned for another city. Although it is under construction, much of the memorial is expected to be ready for the dedication.
For the veterans involved in planning the memorial, its dedication is an occasion worth the wait.
"Well, thank the good Lord that he let me stay around so I could see it," said Monroe resident Ben Roth, who served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps. "You can't appreciate the joy that I feel."
While private fundraising for the project never reached its goals, support from the state government -- including Gov. Jon Corzine -- provided enough money that the memorial could be nearly complete while there is still a large number of World War II veterans in the state.
The memorial has a unique focus on the state's entire contribution to the war effort, including that of men and women who worked on the home front as well as those who served overseas.
The memorial design includes six granite pillars, which hold up a granite ring inscribed with the words "Victory, Duty, Courage, Sacrifice." The pillars surround a pedestal that will be topped with a 12-foot-high sculpture of Lady Victory by former New Jersey resident Thomas Jay Warren. The pillars are in the middle of a mini-amphitheater that will provide seating.
There will be two other sculptures in addition to Lady Victory: a soldier whose uniform will symbolically include elements from different ranks and services and a rifle embedded in the ground with a helmet on it, the sign used in the war to mark a soldier's grave.
On either side of the pillars, there will be a wall depicting timelines of both the Pacific and European theaters of operation, including a series of national events and New Jersey events.
The first event on the European theater timeline is a reference to the Aug. 2, 1939, letter signed by Princeton Borough resident Albert Einstein to President Franklin Roosevelt informing the president of the possibility of an atomic bomb.
The timelines, which are broken into four 12-foot-by-20-foot panels, are composed of porcelain enamel and are expected to last forever, according to Stephen G. Abel, deputy commissioner for the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
Roth, 85, was asked to serve on the memorial commission by former Gov. Jim McGreevey, whose father Jack McGreevey is a veteran who served as commission chairman. He noted that while there is a National World War II Memorial, as well as local and county memorials in New Jersey, there was no statewide memorial.
Although the Legislature approved the memorial in 1999, the plans received a boost in 2004 when the site was switched from Jersey City to Trenton, the commission was formed and the state approved funding.
Lawrence resident Marty Runyon, a memorial commission member, noted that some members of the commission have died since 2004. Since work began on the site earlier this year, the memorial has come together quickly, noted Runyon, who served in Vietnam as a Marine in the 1960s and whose father was a World War II veteran.
While the Legislature originally agreed to pay only $1.5 million, the final cost was $7.2 million, with the state providing $6.5 million and private donations totaling $696,000.
A final piece of the project -- bronze bas-reliefs that would depict war scenes -- depends on raising an additional $250,000.
Contractors have been working two shifts to get the memorial ready for Veterans Day, Nov. 11. Foreman Morrison Bret of Rolling Green Landscapers said they are aiming for the site to be 80 percent complete for the dedication.
Abel, who has worked on the memorial since 2000, said the entire front portion of the memorial should be ready on Veterans Day if the weather cooperates.
Abel said the commission initially thought that New Jersey corporations would contribute more to the memorial.
However, the memorial has received a boost from the state Elks, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars organizations, each of which contributed $25,000, as well as many individual veterans and local posts and districts.
Abel said that while 30 percent of the state's 550,000 veterans 18 months ago were World War II veterans, that percentage continues to drop as veterans die.
"It's important that, while we still have 100,000 World War II vets in the state still alive, that we do this," Abel said of the dedication.
Abel credited the veterans on the commission with deciding to focus on all New Jerseyans' war efforts.
"Right from the beginning, they said it wasn't just about them," Abel said, noting that one commission member's father wasn't allowed to enlist because he was a valuable worker at Roebling Steel in Trenton.
The memorial site was moved to Trenton after environmental and other issues prevented it being located in the Jersey City waterfront.
The memorial park, which includes a set of stairs to Capitol Street, has been a park dedicated to veterans for years. It previously was the location of three town houses, including one that burned down.
There will be park benches so that state workers will be able to enjoy the atmosphere of the park, Abel said.
Parking for the memorial dedication is limited around the Statehouse and shuttle buses will be available from several designated state government parking lots in the downtown area. Veterans are encouraged to complete a reservation form online at www.nj.gov/military.
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