At long last, a World War II Veterans Memorialby Toni Randolph, Minnesota Public Radio
World War II ended more than 60 years ago. In all that time, no state memorial to the war's veterans has been erected. According to some, it is because members of the "Greatest Generation" have been too humble to ask for one.
St. Paul, Minn. — World War II veteran Lyle Pearson, 86, was a bomber pilot in the Army Air Force. He was shot down over Germany on his last mission and was held captive for the last six months of the war. He said there may be another reason a memorial may have been so long in coming.
"Apathy I think," Pearson said. "We got home and gosh, we wanted to get back into the swing of things, get a job and raise our families. We never thought about a memorial."
Pearson, who served on the advisory committee for Minnesota's World War II Veterans Memorial, said many of his fellow vets thought they had fought the last war, but then there were others: Korea and Vietnam. Memorials followed.
"Then all of a sudden thinking, yeah maybe we should have one for World War II. So we finally came alive, almost too late," Pearson said.
Most World War II veterans are in their 80s. Their numbers are shrinking, but there are still about 47,000 veterans still living in Minnesota. About 5,000 of them are expected to show up for the dedication program.
The day-long program will feature a roll call of the names of more than 6,000 Minnesotans who died during the war and a fly-over by vintage World War II aircraft.
The $1.4 million memorial was funded by public and private money. It was built at the base of the Capitol mall near the Court of Honor at the Veterans Service Building. It sits on a plaza between the Vietnam veterans and Korean veterans memorials.
Ten glass panels, placed in an elliptical shape, tell stories about the role Minnesotans played in the war. One depicts Charles "Chuck" Lindberg, who helped raise the first flag at Iwo Jima in 1945. The panels also illustrate the contributions of ordinary citizens and industry.
The space of the memorial starts low with a plane of dark cobbled granite that rises toward the Capitol. Artist Andrea Myklebust is a member of the team that designed the memorial. She said the designers wanted to convey the sense of movement through a tough time.
"The war, if you think of it as a journey through a difficult time, moving up toward a more peaceful time, it's a gesture aimed toward the state Capitol. You can't find a better symbol of democracy. There it is, it's right there," Myklebust said.
The design and construction of the memorial has taken more than six years. But the project itself has been decades in the making.
Bob Hanson, 81, who was on the advisory committee for the memorial, served in the Navy during World War II. He says the lack of a memorial never made him feel overlooked because he never believed he was serving alone.
"I think because of the fact that the whole country and military all served together -- it's not like you had your military people and the other people didn't know much about it. In that, World War II everyone in the country was effected some way or another. I think because of that, no one thought much about building a monument when everyone was involved."
More than 326,000 Minnesotans served in the Armed Forces during World War II -- 6,000 died. Hanson says the memorial is intended to show that their service and their lives were not given in vain.
"I'd hope the biggest reminder would be that freedom isn't free. There's a cost of being free and this is a monument to a country that stood up during a period of disaster," Hanson said.
Veterans from across the state are expected at the Capitol for Saturday's dedication in what is likely to be one of the last big gatherings of World War II vets in Minnesota.