Editorials and Columns

May 25 2004

Honoring West Virginia's WWII Veterans

by Senator Jay Rockefeller

            This year’s Memorial Day observance will be something special for an entire generation of American veterans.  For the first time, there will be a national gathering in Washington to mark the debts paid and freedom purchased by the thousands of men and women who fought and died in World War II.

            The May 29th dedication of the National WWII monument on the Mall in Washington, D.C., will be a day for old friends, joyful reunions, shared tears and bittersweet remembrances. But most of all, it will be a day of honor and gratitude for the millions who served their country so selflessly. Their sacrifice improved the lives of millions around the world who still revere them today as heroes. 

            This tribute to all the soldiers in World War II, including the 400,000 Americans who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country, is long overdue, and I am proud to see The Greatest Generation finally getting the national recognition they deserve. 

            West Virginia has a rich tradition of military service and accomplishment.  We should be especially proud of the 234,000 West Virginians who served in World War II and are being honored by the memorial.  When their country called, 36 percent of the Mountain State’s male population answered - the fourth highest participation rate in the country.  Today that tradition continues as so many of West Virginia’s National Guard ,Army Reserves and active military are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are the next generation of West Virginia veterans, and this memorial reminds us that they too should be given the respect and honor they deserve.

            The National WWII memorial is the end result of almost 20 years of very hard work and fund-raising by veterans and lawmakers, and I am honored that I was able to cast my vote to make this memorial a reality.  The end result of the dedication and hard work that went into the memorial is an impressive tribute.

            I hope that all veterans will someday be able to visit this beautiful new monument in our nation’s capital. It is the length of a football field, book-ended by two massive arches representing the Atlantic and Pacific war theaters.  It features a solid granite pillar for each state, territory and the District of Columbia that sent soldiers overseas, a sunken pool for quiet reflection, and a field of glittering, gold stars—one for each American who gave his or her life.  It is a fitting memorial for all WWII veterans.  The size and gravity of this symbol on the National Mall will guarantee that the heroism of WWII soldiers is never forgotten. 

            As we celebrate Memorial Day this May 31st with family and friends, I hope we all take some time to remember what the holiday is truly about.  This is a day designed to honor all the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend and protect the American way of life, from the beaches of Normandy to the deserts of Iraq.  That sacrifice deserves our thanks and support—not just on Memorial Day, but every day.