Dedication of the West Virginia Veterans Memorial

Charleston Gazette
November 12, 1995

Veterans Turn Out To View Monument To Comrades

By Lawrence Messina
Sunday Gazette-Mail

It's been a long time coming.

Veterans of nearly a century of bloody conflicts echoed that sentiment as the prayers of clergy and the speeches of politicians reverberated about the Capitol Complex Saturday.

They gathered on a gusty, gray November morning to dedicate a memorial to West Virginians who served, fought and gave their lives for their country.

"It's a beautiful place. Well done," said Harold Smith, 76, of Ravenswood, an Army veteran of World War II's European theater. "It has been a long time coming."

Thousands of the state's 129,000 veterans gathered near and around the newly completed monument with family, fellow citizens and survivors of West Virginia's war dead.

"We really needed this," said 45-year-old Bill Hines of Morgantown, a veteran of four tours of duty in Vietnam as an Army combat engineer. "It's long overdue."

The veterans came wearing service uniforms, faded save for a bright patch of campaign ribbons on the chest.

They came wearing motorcycle jackets of worn black leather, covered with patches to remind them of where they served, whom they lost there and whom they believe they left behind.

They came wearing the gold braid of VFW uniforms identifying their posts from around the state.

Planners first sketched out their vision for a monument 10 years ago. Workers laid the first stones five years ago. Funding problems caused extended periods of inaction, leaving the memorial bare and unfinished.

The memorial began with $1.4 million in state money and contributions. A $1.3 million bank loan provided the money needed to complete most of the project in time for Veterans Day.

"It's money well spent," said John Hawkins, 60, of Dunbar, who served as an Army ski trooper in Korea. "We lost a lot of people over there."

Four tall, curved walls of granite and limestone, one for each of the century's major wars, form a circle around the monument's center. Their inward surfaces bear the names of 10,197 West Virginians who died in those conflicts, etched in the smooth black stone.

Violet Jennings, 83, traveled from Newell to see the name of her son. John Charles Jennings was 18 when he died in a 1962 plane crash en route to Vietnam, where he was to be one of the military advisers who preceded American combat troops in the conflict there.

"I hear my son's name will be on it," Jennings said. "I want to see his name there. You just feel like he never existed."

Jennings found her son, amid the 877 names of the state's Vietnam war dead.

Two bronze plaques list those who perished in other struggles, from the 1900 Philippines Insurrection to the post-gulf war peacekeeping mission of 1994.

Niches in each of the four walls' outer faces will house bronze statues representing the four branches of the armed services. The tall, sinewy figure of a sailor on deck, the first to be completed, was unveiled at the dedication.

The monument sits atop a shallow reflecting pool, bridged by four stone spans. Charleston sculptor P. Joseph Mullins designed the memorial and carved the bronze sailor for it. Veterans applauded him for his creation when the dedication's master of ceremonies, Lawson Hamilton, cited those behind the project.

Herbert Jones, the memorial committee chairman and a decorated Navy veteran, also addressed the crowd.

"We think this will be a source of comfort to those who visit here that their loved one is honored," Jones said. "Future generations will say we cared enough to honor these names."

As promised, the politicians kept their remarks brief. Gov. Gaston Caperton reminded the crowd of Abraham Lincoln's words at Gettysburg. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D W.Va., read a letter that a Beckley soldier wrote his parents in 1944. It was discovered and delivered after he died in battle in Europe.

Veteran chaplains led those assembled in prayer for those whose names cover the memorial walls and those who survived.

"How do we pray with hope if we never learn, if they never learn?" the Rev. Dean Borgemeyer asked the crowd. "Let this be the last monument to the human losses of war."

Monuments and Memorials