Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Does City Need Another War Memorial?

It’s being offered for free to the county. But will it junk up the lakefront?

By - Sep 26th, 2022 03:31 pm
The front of a Woody Willams Foundation Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, located in Grove City, Ohio. Photo by Sixflashphoto, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

The front of a Woody Willams Foundation Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, located in Grove City, Ohio. Photo by Sixflashphoto, (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Last week there was a rather odd meeting of the Milwaukee County parks committee, to discuss a proposed addition to the lakefront over which the committee has no power. The county was being offered a free memorial to the families who lost loved ones in past American wars by the Woody Williams Foundation based in Louisville, Kentucky.

Under a state law passed when Chris Abele was county executive, the county board no longer has any say over what happens to non-park land owned by the county and this proposed memorial would be on lakefront land co-owned by the county, Milwaukee Art Museum and the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center. This means it’s up to the two organizations and County Executive David Crowley whether to accept the memorial.

The back of a Woody Willams Foundation Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, located in Mount Pleasant South Carolina. Photo by Michael Rivera, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

The back of a Woody Willams Foundation Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, located in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Photo by Michael Rivera, (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons

So why were board members being consulted? Because there is likely to be public interest in the project, Aaron Hertzberg, director of the Department of Administrative Services, explained to the committee. Hertzberg’s boss is Crowley. Is it possible the county exec has reservations about accepting this free gift and wanted others to weigh in on the memorial?

Comments by readers referred to the proposed memorial as “bizarre,” a “mere tchotchke” and a “cookie cutter monument.”

An image of the black granite, two-side memorial is displayed at the foundation’s website. One side of the monument bears the words: “a tribute to Gold Star Families and Relatives who sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom,” and on the other there are scenes of “Homeland” (image of Mount Rushmore), “Family” (outline of a five-member family), “Patriot” (soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima) and “Sacrifice” (veterans’ graveyard). Compared to Maya Lin’s remarkable Vietnam War Memorial, a work of art which has left many in tears, this Gold Star memorial feels more like an advertising placard, a forgettable slice of kitsch.

Yet 179 identical memorials have been installed or are in progress (including Milwaukee, the first proposed in Wisconsin) in all 50 states, the foundation says. On a per capita basis no state has installed more of these than relatively tiny (1.8 million population) West Virginia, with nine memorials installed in the cities of Charleston, Wheeling, Fairmount, Institute, Parkersburg, Vienna, Mercer City-Princeton and Marshall County-Moundsville, and three more planned in Martinsburg, Williamson and Wyoming City.

It’s part of very sincere effort by West Virginia native Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last remaining World War II Medal of Honor winner, who died at age 98 in June and whose body lay in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, a tribute reserved for the nation’s most distinguished private citizens. Only six others have received the honor: civil rights icon Rosa Parks, the Rev. Billy Graham and four Capitol police officers.

“As World War II began, Woody came into direct contact with families in his own community when he delivered Western Union telegrams informing the Gold Star families of the death of their loved one,” the foundation he created notes. He became convinced that “consideration and recognition of the families of those lost in military service was very inadequate.”

The foundation has a $1.6 million budget and is very transparent about its finances, listing its last three annual tax forms, something many nonprofits don’t do. Most of the budget goes to pay for those identical memorials.

Are they having any impact? Has the installation of 12 memorials in Ohio and nine in Texas made citizens of those states more concerned about families who’ve lost loved ones in war?

War memorials are a tricky thing. To me, Maya Lin’s more abstract Vietnam memorial is far more powerful than the flatly representational Korean War memorial at the National Mall, with its 19 statues of soldiers.

In Milwaukee the 1957 War Memorial building by Eero Saarinen is considered one of the city’s most beautiful works of architecture, but its only “message” is found on its west face, which contains artist Edward Lewandowski’s striking 1,440,000-piece mosaic with Roman numerals representing the beginning and end dates for World War II and the Korean War. Viewers are left to draw their own conclusions.

Far less successful is the city’s 1991 Vietnam War Memorial, located to the north of the War Memorial Center, and featuring three Wausau Red Granite columns standing 22, 26 and 30 feet high and representing those killed in action, prisoners of war/missing in action, and those returned home. The memorial also has five granite benches to symbolize the five branches of the military and 11 to represent each year of the Vietnam War

Do we really need yet another war memorial in this area, much less a cookie cutter of 178 others installed or in planning in this country? “Can’t we do better than a McMemorial?” wrote one Urban Milwaukee reader. “Something unique and dedicated specifically to the Gold Star Families of Milwaukee or Wisconsin?”

The proposed memorial would be located just southeast of the Vietnam War memorial on a circle of land with a 35-foot radius. Would the county officials approve the project if it was charged the $110,000 the foundation says it costs? That seems doubtful.

The project is one that Crowley inherited. The foundation has been working with parks staff on this project since 2016, as Graham Kilmer reported. Does Crowley support it? His communications director Brandon Weathersby told Urban Milwaukee that a few questions were raised about the project at the parks committee and “the County Executive wants to ensure those questions are answered prior to making a decision.”

It’s a pretty tough issue for any elected official. How do you turn down this memorial when it’s free and when it’s all about patriotism? That might help explain why identical memorials are popping up all over America, and why we’re soon likely to see one erected on Milwaukee’s lakefront.

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8 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Does City Need Another War Memorial?”

  1. George Wagner says:

    Thanks for covering this, Bruce. We don’t need it.
    By the way, it’s also time to hoist down all the black and white POW flags that still fly on so many government flagpoles. That was always part of a right wing agenda.

  2. julia o'connor says:

    my goodness that’s hideous

  3. Polaris says:

    Weird. I thought they said they already had funding for this, but the listing on foundation’s website is asking people to give to the (proposed) Milwaukee memorial.

    Look at any of the current or proposed locations and you’ll see that Milwaukee would be among a very short list of large cities with or considering a monument. And, if this thing ends up on the lakefront, Milwaukee would have given this foundation more than most any other city in terms of prominence. But when I look at the web page complete with rendering, it almost appears as if the difference between making it happen or not is funding, not the approval of the juristiction.

    Tampa’s is in a neighborhood outside what appears to be a middle school. other cities have placed these McMemorial’s far from their city centers. A few appear to be in cemeteries. Phoenix’s was just dedicated this week outside the State Capitol, but in what is called the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, where they keep other small statuary and plaques for a number of military causes as well as everything from MLK Jr. and the Bill of Rights to to the Ten Commandments, Confederate Soldiers and Murdered Children. Ack…what a menagerie.

    Crowley and the MAM need to take the lakefront off the table. Like someone else said, put it out at the Zablocki VA Center or somewhere more appropriate.

  4. gerrybroderick says:

    Some years back Preserve Our Parks produced a map showing all the “monuments” and “memorials” that have been proposed to be place on our lakefront…..and thankfully, rejected. Remember the “Chappie Fox Circus Wagon sculpture? Or the USS Des Moines fiasco? The list goes on and on. Had all these well intended memorials been allowed on our beautiful lakefront? It would now look like a cemetery of the surreal. Hopefully Co. Exec Crowley will recommend a more appropriate site like the Zablocki VA Center.

  5. Respect should be paid to the existing Gold Star Family Memorial already at the Milwaukee War Memorial Center at the lakefront. This existing Gold Star Family Memorial is already built in a respectful and dignified setting in the courtyard among other important remembrances and memorials, including an eternal flame and flag display, and is “Honoring the sacrifice of the families who have lost an immediate family member in service to our country.” This special place, to me, is an emotional and thoughtful space that truly honors our service members, families, and us all.

  6. RetiredResident says:

    Can we finally get rid of the orange construction debris that blocks the view of the Calatrava when looking down Wisconsin Ave?

  7. Colin says:

    WIll there be memorials for the COVID victims? For those killed unnecessarily by the police? Nah, you can keep your war memorial.

  8. JMcD says:

    Thanks but, with no disrespect, no thanks.

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