editorial (2006-06)

In Memory of Ultimate Sacrifices

Fallen servicemen and servicewomen to be honored in the World’s Fair Park

In Memory of Ultimate Sacrifices

The East Tennessee Veterans’ Memorial on the World’s Fair Park’s northern edge has gained the endorsement and participation of the city, the county, and the U.S. Congress. A little more than $2 million, or about half the memorial’s cost, remains to be raised from private sources, but it appears that the tribute, bearing the names of more than 5,400 fallen warriors from 35 counties will be engraved on granite slabs arranged facing a bell tower on the park’s grounds, will ultimately be erected. War dead from World War I to the present are to be honored there.

The location, between the park’s fountains along World’s Fair Park Drive and the L&N station/Butcher Shop Restaurant complex, is a grassy, tree-dotted and little-used part of the park. The memorial will enhance that park section and its use. It seems ideal, especially when compared with an earlier proposal to establish the memorial on the Gay Street side of Krutch Park, which is already somewhat cramped.

The formal announcement last week brought a bit of criticism that the site selection and design were not subject to public hearings or a design competition. The memorial association’s chairman, retired Army Col. Bill Felton, points out that the project has been discussed openly for several years, that the city leased the property at a public meeting, the county appropriated $1.25 million to it in its budget, and the association’s board of directors, “a large group from all walks of life,” considered several designs before making its choice. The design is not unattractive. It was created by Brewer Ingram Fuller Architects partner Lee Ingram and Ross/Fowler Landscape Architects, and it suits its memorial purpose fully and blends in well with the park itself.

There are two kinds of war memorials: elaborate and stunning, such as the World War I Memorial in Indianapolis, or stark and moving, such as the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. The East Tennessee Memorial, as depicted in renderings, is of the simpler style, fitting its purpose. It’s hardly a celebration of war. It’s instead a sobering tribute to the sacrifices of the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen, and their survivors, who have borne the ultimate burden in defense of the United States and its freedoms.

Those freedoms are to be inscribed large on the tower for the bell, which is to be rung on special occasions, such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day. The mission of the ET Vets Association, “To honor those who served…To remember those who have fallen…To teach our children the values of freedom…” is represented in the overall design, which will include a large United States flag on a low pedestal at the entrance to the park.

The war dead’s names will be engraved on 32 white granite steles, each nine feet tall and three feet across. The names will be sorted by county and by the conflict in which they fell.

Walkways will provide access to each of the steles, which will also bear the names of Medal of Honor recipients and quotations associated with the wars themselves. Shrubbery and trees will enhance the site.

In its visual depictions, an air of peace and quietude comes through, beyond any thought of an aesthetic. It’s as the association wanted it, Felton says. “It’s not about us. It’s about them [the dead].”

The East Tennessee Historical Society and the University of Tennessee’s Center for the Study of War and Society are assisting the veterans’ association in research for the memorial and are in a position to assist in the development of a learning center to illustrate the meaning behind the wars in which the United States has engaged and to provide an outlet for recorded veterans’ stories that constitute an oral history of those conflicts and the men and women who were their backbone.

Felton says his organization has envisioned such an educational facility in conjunction with the memorial, a center that would further its aims of teaching children the meanings of duty and sacrifice in the name of liberty. He also says he hopes to see similar memorials established eventually in Nashville and Memphis, for the fallen warriors from each of Tennessee’s other Grand Divisions.

War is never a pretty thing, but conflicts with aggressors who threaten the peaceful dominion of this country or its allies have been waged on several fronts besides the two world wars when we were actively attacked by foreign military forces. To those who have answered the call to duty and have been killed in its performance, we owe an abiding sense of respect. The planned memorial in the World’s Fair Park is a fitting gesture of that respect.