In the time it has taken to raise money for a World War II memorial for Washington state, as many as 10,000 of the men who fought in it have died. And, seven months before it was scheduled for completion, the grassy site in Olympia lies green and undisturbed.
Construction that was to begin this week won’t because organizers don’t have the money to break ground.
“It’s shocking isn’t it?” said retired Lt. Col Richard Kirk, head of the fund-raising effort. “There’s only 130,000 of us left. We’re vanishing off the face of the earth.”
Said artist Simon Kogan of the project: “It’s crawling in time.”
In the three years since competition began on a design, disputes over where to put the memorial and fund-raising have blown all deadlines. Meanwhile, the cost has risen to $700,000, only one-fourth of which has been raised.
A luncheon to raise money for the memorial will be held Friday in Spokane at the Spokane Club. Earlier this month, the Legislature stepped in, approving $200,000.
“It was out of a sense of urgency that the Legislature acted,” said John King, director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs and chairman of the memorial committee. The fear is that the veterans will be gone before the tribute is completed. King’s father, a World War II serviceman, died earlier this year and he said 300 to 400 veterans are dying monthly.
Gov. Gary Locke is certain to approve the spending, having ear-marked the money even before the shortfall was obvious, a spokeswoman said. The target date for completion now is Memorial Day, 1999.
It’s taken 53 years to get this far. While the state and the nation have Vietnam and Korean war memorials, there is no commemoration of the conflict of the century.
“When the war was over, the nation got busy and never looked back,” King said.
The design to remedy that is the concept of artist Kogan, a 38-year-old Russian Jew who emigrated to the United States seven years ago. Both his grandfather and the art teacher with whom he studied for 15 years served in the Russian Army during World War II, though neither ever spoke of it. Kogan said his interpretation came from interviews with Americans recalling their experiences.
The proposed memorial will stretch nearly half a football field just northeast of the Capitol in Olympia. The centerpiece is a bronze wheat field. Four thousand individual stalks of wheat, up to 4 feet high, are mounted on springs so they’ll move and chime in the wind. At the end of the river of wheat are five 14-foot blades on which are etched the names of the 5,800 Washingtonians who died.
Seven hundred of the dead are from Spokane. The blades symbolize branches of the armed service and civilian workers.
Education is a major component of the memorial, which will offer an amphitheater, a world map marking major battles and resource materials for K-12 teachers. Three flags will likely fly overhead: the U.S. flag, the Washington state flag and the MIA flag. Twenty thousand World War II dead have never been properly identified.
Kogan, of Olympia, is part of a design team that includes the McGranahan Partnership, architects from Tacoma; and Berger Partnership of Seattle, the landscape architects who worked on Bill Gates’ Lake Washington home. The team beat out 42 others in a statewide competition nearly two years ago.
“We entered, we won and the delays began,” Jim McGranahan said.
First, the site was prohibited by former Gov. Mike Lowry and the Capitol building committee as taking up too much green space and view.
Organizers simply waited for Gov. Locke, who approved the site, to replace Lowry. Then fund-raising stalled. One of the most public and awkward conflicts involved the Boeing Co., which withheld an indirect donation after a state senator protested that big companies that manufactured armaments during the war were not contributing. Boeing had declined to give the $25,000 requested. But it was going to sell prints of a B-17 Flying Fortress that could raise up to $300,000 for the memorial. Both sides since say they’re working together.
But competition for memorial contributions overall is stiff. Former Sen. Bob Dole is heading a $100 million drive to build a national memorial in Washington, D.C. A Garden of Remembrance for all wars is being planned in Seattle and the University of Washington is planning a World War II memorial.
“All of a sudden everyone has awakened on this issue,” King said. The Spokane fund-raiser is being organized by Realtor Rocky Rothrock, whose sister, Julie, is married to Lt. Col Kirk. He’s enlisted such business leaders as Ray and Lois Hanson and Luke and Lucy Williams and invited the public to attend. Kirk and King will be on hand, offering, among other things, the opportunity to contribute to the memorial by purchasing a $75 commemorative granite tile that will be laid in the walkway around the memorial.
“World War II was the most climatic event of the century it set us on the path, both the world and every individual in it,” Kirk said. He lost 107 of his classmates from Lincoln High School in Seattle and becomes audibly upset at the indifference he’s encountered.
Strong support has come from organized labor and the American Legion. But most of the contributions so far, like the war effort itself, has turned on the actions of individuals, giving one at a time.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Memorial event The World War II Memorial Luncheon will be Friday at the Spokane Club. Cost is $12.50 per person. For reservations, call 448-1511. For more information on the memorial, call (800) 562-2308.
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