Six Decades Later, Work on World War II Memorial Begins

Mon December 08, 2003 - National Edition

SPRINGFIELD, IL (AP) For Tom Proctor, there could be no better day than Sunday to break ground for Illinois’ memorial to the veterans of World War II.

Exactly 62 years earlier, Proctor was sitting down to breakfast at Pearl Harbor when his anti-aircraft weapons unit was called out. The Japanese had attacked, and America was suddenly fighting in World War II.

"All those men who were killed, and the men who received injuries on that day and are suffering from it, they’ve been forgotten, and damn it, I don’t like that a bit," the Springfield resident said. "They say it’s gone in the past and it won’t happen again. The hell it won’t happen again."

Proctor, 86, has been ill but wanted to be at Oak Ridge Cemetery as veterans symbolically start construction on the $1.5 million memorial that many consider long overdue.

"They didn’t seek the accolades, they don’t think they did anything out of the ordinary," said John Boeck, president of the memorial association. "When you look back, to the contrary, they did very much out of the ordinary and saw this country through one of the most tumultuous times it ever has seen."

The conflict drew 987,000 Illinoisans and killed 22,000 of them. Its worldwide grip will be reflected in the monument’s design, a concrete globe with raised sections representing the earth’s continents.

Stainless steel buttons on the map will mark the sites of major battles, with information about them engraved in nearby black granite walls.

"It will show the next few generations how much could have been lost, how much was gained for them by these sacrifices," said memorial association member Shirley Harris, whose husband, Walter, fought in the Battle of the Bulge under Gen. George Patton.

"I just can’t imagine the sorrow that this land went through."

Construction won’t begin until January, Boeck said, and organizers hope to dedicate it on Aug. 15, the 59th anniversary of V-J Day, the war’s end.

The globe, 12 ft. (3.7 m) in diameter, will be made of 7 in. (17.8 cm) of concrete with a hollow center, he said.

A "veterans plaza" will form the apron in front of the sphere with room for 3,700 paving stones engraved with veterans’ names for a $300 donation. Non-veteran sponsors may purchase stones for a separate part of the memorial for $500 or more.

The bulk of the financing comes from state grants of $1.4 million and an expected federal grant. Boeck said private donations have totaled approximately $250,000.

Social studies students at Jefferson Middle School in Springfield are responsible for $5,000 of that during the past two-and-a-half years.

Sixth grade teacher Patty West said students have worked tirelessly with candy and snack sales and a "social studies-a-thon" in which students collected pledges for each correct answer they gave about the war in a contest.

"A lot of them know people in the current war," West said. "When they have a family member in Iraq, they realized what was going on it brought everything to life for them."

Proctor would be pleased to hear that. He said he hopes the memorial, above all, keeps the war’s memory alive.

"There’s a lot going into it, heart and soul going into it," he said. "My God, I hope they do remember."