Some veterans are really losing it

Speaking as a combat veteran of World War II, I claim my right to charge that many of my fellow veterans are making asses of themselves, both locally and nationally.

I am entitled to make this statement, having served three years as an infantry dogface, charging twice onto a hostile beach, the second time in the biggest battle of the Pacific War, Okinawa.

Locally, we have World War II veterans screaming that it verges on the sacrilegious to consider tearing down Memorial Coliseum. The coliseum, they say, is properly called Veterans Memorial Coliseum and to tear it down dishonors all those veterans who served in the biggest of all wars.

These veterans are slipping their gears. Memorial Coliseum has become a tottering obsolescence. It served well in its heyday but now it’s too small, too awkwardly designed, too lacking in the amenities a modern arena needs.

I wonder if these protesting veterans realize that by demanding this creaky, outmoded structure be left standing they are making a comment about themselves. They, too, are coming off as creaky, outmoded and obsolete. That’s not me.

The coliseum area features a beautiful, tasteful and appropriate memorial fountain honoring veterans. There is a wall listing all those who gave their lives. To me, this constitutes what should be an appropriate memorial. If the coliseum is torn down, this memorial wall, or something like it, will be erected somewhere suitable on the site. That should be sufficient.

At the moment, the most tasteful war monument Portland possesses is the Vietnam memorial in Washington Park. Here are beautiful lawns, a graceful winding path and a succession of plaques honoring, year by year, those who were lost in that ugly war. It is kept up to date, with new names added as remains are retrieved from the battle zone. To me, this is what a war memorial should represent, a quiet refuge dedicated to respect and reconciliation, where one can sense the tragedy of war and the solace of peace.

As a veteran, I don’t want to be identified with an obsolete coliseum which has outworn its usefulness and stands as an historic eyesore while the area around it becomes modernized and contemporary.

If some local veterans are making asses of themselves, this is minor compared to what they’re doing in Washington, D.C. By all accounts, the World War II Memorial on the Capital Mall will violate all standards of good taste. It will be huge, evidently to commemorate the hugeness of the war itself, a fact of which we hardly need be reminded.

As now planned, the memorial consists of a sunken theater with 56 granite pillars, two four-story arches and a gross assortment of balustrades, triumphal archways, rampart walls and ceremonial steps.

Worst of all, it will fill up the open grassy center of the National Mall. It will totally block off the vista between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. To me, and many veterans, the peace of a grassy mall embodies the kind of peace we all hoped we would come back to when the shooting stopped. I don’t want to see that grass obliterated by a concrete monstrosity.

The site is 7.4 acres, huge by any estimate, and the memorial is ticketed to cost $100 million. Originally the memorial was set to locate in nearby Constitution Gardens. This displeased the cranky veterans. No, they said, you’re marginalizing us veterans. And keep it big. Shrinking the memorial shrinks the importance of veterans.

Nonsense. I keep thinking of the national Vietnam memorial wall. Its simple and reverent design draws people year after year, people who feel real emotion as they review those listed names. Most people forget that when this simple yet dramatic design was approved, some crotchety veterans insisted there also be a statue of some struggling combat figures. Today, people revere the wall, they ignore the ugly statue.

Tom Brokaw of NBC News insists on calling us World War II veterans the “greatest generation.” I don’t feel that way. True we fought the biggest war, a war that saved the world from the savagery of Hitler. Most of us were drafted, although we went willingly. As survivors, we got treated pretty well. Millions of us got college degrees through the GI Bill of Rights. We got enough discharge pay to live pretty high for awhile. And there was the 52-20 club, where we drew $20 a week for a year while we supposedly looked for jobs. Personally, I spent one whole summer lolling on the banks of Lake Oswego.

In this week’s TV news, some veterans with sense have descended on Washington and demanded an end to this gross memorial design and the damage it does to the capital mall. Bully for them. I hate to see what is called the greatest generation turning into the grating-est generation.