Sunday, June 10, 2007

World War II Memorial Dedicated At Minnesota Capitol

Vivid stories of bombing runs over Germany and beach landings in Iwo Jima flowed freely Saturday among thousands of World War II veterans who gathered at Minnesota's Capitol to dedicate a memorial to their cause. Many showed up dressed in their military best, displaying chests full of medals and saluting fellow soldiers as they passed. Some flashed tattered enlistment cards and time-worn photos before snapping new shots next to war buddies, spouses, children and grandchildren. The glass-and-granite tribute -- built more than six decades after the war ended -- comes as natural causes are increasingly claiming the lives the era's soldiers. Only about 47,000 World War II veterans out of 320,000 who served back then remain in Minnesota. As he looked up at one of 10 glass panels describing the state's involvement, 82-year-old Ray Peterson couldn't help but dwell on the frequent funerals he's been attending lately for fellow veterans. "It's too bad it had to be so late," he said of the memorial. "But it's nice to get it before we're all gone." Peterson toured the memorial in a flight suit similar to one he wore aboard a B-17 during 26 missions over Germany toward the end of the war. Like Peterson, Burt Folk signed up for the war at age 17. But Folk, now 82, saw action half-the-world away on a Navy ship that took part in the Feb. 19, 1945 storming of Iwo Jima, a Japanese stronghold in the Pacific Ocean.He too wonders what took so long. On Minnesota's sprawling Capitol lawn, the new memorial rests midway between existing monuments to the Vietnam and Korean wars. "This is 62 years after the fact," Folk said. "They recognized all these other ones way before they recognized our efforts. Now we've got ours." A national memorial to the war was dedicated in Washington in 2004. Minnesota joins Illinois, Indiana, New York, South Dakota and some other states that have erected their own official World War II memorials. It was authorized by state lawmakers in 2000 and cost $1.38 million to build. Ten 8-foot-tall glass panels set on Mesabi Black granite slabs make up the perimeter. They detail Minnesota's war efforts -- both in combat and on the homefront. They recognize the Iron Range's role in supplying raw materials for weapons, the Mayo Clinic's tests of high-altitude flying, local inventions such as the K-ration and the work of women in ordnance plants. The memorial's interior is a declining granite plane meant to symbolize the depths of war paired with a gradually rising flower bed designed to represent the climb to victory. While the memorial is meant for him too, ex-Naval flight engineer Bob Hansen's mind immediately turns to his brother, one of the 6,462 Minnesota war casualties. "The freedom we enjoy is not something that comes easily," he said. "Everyone who has been in the service can look at it from different angles and different personal values." Before the official dedication, the names of each fallen Minnesota soldier was read aloud. The roll call took more than two hours to get from Bernie Aaberg to John Zylstra, both Army privates from western Minnesota who died six weeks apart in 1944.