Thousands pay tribute to WWII vets at Capitol memorial dedicationby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
Thousands of veterans and their families attended the official dedication of Minnesota's new WWII Memorial at the Capitol on Saturday.
St. Paul, Minn. — Crowds began to arrive as early as 7 a.m., hours before the start of the ceremony. By late morning, a sea of white hair spread out in all directions on the Capitol lawn. For many of the veterans who came to see the memorial, it was a day of mixed emotions.
Delbert Nelson from Forest Lake served on the European Western Front, maintaining cameras on reconnaissance planes. He came to the dedication ceremony on one of the many free buses lining the streets around the Capitol.
"A lot of things are forgotten, you know. But there are some memories, a lot of memories, some good, some bad," he said.
Nelson, 88, says he is thankful he got to see the memorial. Of the more than 320,000 Minnesotans who served in the war, only about 47,000 remain alive today.
The ceremony, called "Above and Beyond," began with the reading of the names of the more than 6,000 Minnesotans to die in World War II. It took more than three-and-a half hours to get from A to Z.
That gave plenty of time for socializing and touring the memorial.
Many veterans came wearing their old military uniforms, medals and hats. There were lots of wheelchairs and walkers among the crowd, 62 years after the war's end. After the reading of the names, they gathered for a group photo.
The memorial sits on the lawn down the hill from the Capitol, between memorials for Vietnam and Korean war veterans. At the center of the new memorial is a granite slope intended to symbolize the depths of war and the climb to victory. The slope is surrounded by 10 8-foot-tall glass panels. Each one displays etched images of Minnesota's contribution to the war effort.
"Organizers were originally estimating 20,000 and we thought that was on the high side, but right now I would say we're well beyond that," said Jim Schwartz, who helped coordinate the dedication.
By the end of the day, at least 22,000 people had come to the site, according to Capitol security.
As the dedication continued, dozens of veterans and dignitaries took to the stage to remember the war.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty told the gathered crowd that he was honored to be among so many veterans.
"On behalf of Minnesota we want to make sure they hear our message today loudly and clearly. It is simply this: We love you. We are profoundly grateful for what you have done and you will forever be our heroes," Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty referred to World War II as "the People's War" because of the huge impact it had on those who served and those who stayed behind.
The memorial took almost seven years to complete and cost around $1.3 million to build. In 2004, a national memorial to the war was dedicated in Washington, D.C.
"I think it's wonderful, just wonderful," said Litchfield resident Donald Pearson, who served in the Pacific with his buddy, Donald Slindon. Pearson choked up as looked at the memorial and remembered the war.
"This is a wonderful memorial. All the ones that didn't make it home need to be remembered," he said.
Slindon, who also served in the Pacific, says the memorial makes him feel lucky to be here.
"We were just talking about how fortunate we are -- we hear all those names -- that we came back," Slindon says.
That sentiment was repeated over and over among the veterans on the lawn.
Horace Ooley from Ada says despite the horrors he and the rest of the WWII veterans lived through, at least they had a second chance at life.
"I didn't win the war," Ooley said. "The ones that won the war never came back. They gave all. That's the heroes," he says. "That is how I feel anyway, they of course sacrificed the most of all of us."
As the ceremony came to a close, many veterans seemed reluctant for it to end. They stayed in their chairs, enjoying the afternoon.