Honor Flight Michigan thought it was a good idea to take World War II veterans from Michigan to Washington D.C so they could see their national memorial. After the waiting list filled up, and they couldn’t take anymore, they decided that it was time to bring the memorial to Michigan, so the veterans and others could visit it whenever they wanted. This monument wasn’t paid for by the tax dollars, it was paid for by sponsors like UAW-Ford and individuals that want to contribute. The idea for this memorial started in 2011, the ground started breaking in 2013, and components are still being added to the site to this day.
The memorial was designed by Michael J. Gordan, whose father was a veteran.
“His inspiration has been what he feels is the importance of honoring our veterans… because what the veterans fought and died for, as well as the sacrifices made at home, was the freedom for us to enjoy the lives we have both today and into the future.”(The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial)
On Woodward Avenue and Thirteen Mile, in Royal Oak, Michigan, you can find this memorial inside Memorial Park. The memorial has three main design components.
The first is who the memorial is about, which consists of statues depicting three scenes representing land, sea, and air, each has a war and home front component. The land scene is depicting mail call. On the home front, it shows families eagerly awaiting news about their loved ones that are overseas. On the war front, it shows the soldiers eagerly waiting for news an encouragement from home. The sea scene depicts two bags that save one life. On the home front, it shows a young boy and girl filling their own bag with milkweed pods to make one life jacket. On the war front, shipments of raw material such as iron ore from the Upper Peninsula along with other goods from industrial centers required constant military patrols and the seaman needed to be wearing a life to conduct this duty. The air scene features the saying “Keep ‘Em Flying”. On the home front, Rosie the Riveter labors on a B-24 Bomber at the Ford Willow Run Assembly Plane. On the war front, a Tuskegee airman who was trained at Selfridge Army Air Field prepares for his mission to escort a bomber pilot deep into enemy territory. (Artistic)
The second is a Colonnade of thirteen pillars showing how Michigan supported the war through service to the country, the sacrifice of lives lost and time given, industry converted to the war effort, labor in factories and fields, the commitment of individuals and communities, and change required to fight well as how we were affected. (Artistic)
The final component is a walkable and interactive Michigan map that tells the story of innovation and dedication. The state map highlights communities that were integral to the war effort. Many factories were converted to produce tanks, anti-aircraft guns, bombers, duckboats, artillery, helmets, and K-rations. The war effort also brought women into the workplace and made changes into racially diversifying the workplace. Michigan was also a military training site, with her waterways providing training sites for launches, and hosted POW camps. The residents of the state that stayed home grew victory gardens, collected scrap metals and fat from meat. (Artistic)
It is important that both aspects are included because they were people working towards the same goal even though they weren’t in the same country. When asked about the scenes, Tim Downey, executive director of the legacy project, explained, “They say England won the war on the field and the U.S. won the war in the factories of Detroit. Not only is it important to salute the veterans, we want to recognize the people who built Jeeps and tanks and did so much more.” (Kavanaugh)
A few other aspects to honor the veterans more individually that are placed in the park are the Walk of Honor and the Wall of Stars. The Walk of Honor creates a lasting tribute to those who served, whether at home or on the war front. It consists of engraved bricks that were donated. The walkway tells the story of those whose lives made a difference. The Wall of Stars will honor the 15.458 Michigan lives lost during World War II. With a total of 1,300 stars, each star will represent approximately 11 of those heroes. It is located at the memorial’s entrance, providing a dramatic backdrop to the statues scenes. The gold star that will be used has deep meaning, as families would hang service banners in their windows with a blue star, signifying a family member serving in the Armed Forces. Gold Star banners represented family members who died in Military Operations. A few other aspects that are included is nine statues, an ice rink, and an amphitheater. There is another educational component being developed currently for those interested in learning more about Michigan’s wartime history.
The values and lessons learned as a result of the Second World War are essential to building a world where every life is valued, respected and protected. The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial strives to assist schools and families to form youth who are aware of the past and able to create a bright future for all. When figuring out what to do with the memorial, the creators wanted to make sure that no one was required to contribute anything without wanting to. They wanted to make sure that everyone that had anything to do with it were doing so with good reason and not because they were forced into it. The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial is a registered nonprofit organization seeking support from private donors, corporations and foundations. There are many different ways that the community can be a part of this memorial.
As mentioned above, the memorial is not paid for by the tax dollars, but in 2018, Governor Snyder signed a tax law that added the Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial to the list of organizations that you’ll be able to donate to through your state income tax return. This means that no one is paying money to help without voluntarily doing so. Debi Hollis, who is the president of the Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial Board, said, “That part of the Memorial Park was dedicated in 1948 as a World War II park, and the memorial was just never built. (Stateside Staff) Her involvement with Honor Flight Michigan began in 2008 when she took her first flight as a guardian, and her inspiration came from her father’s military service. State Sen. Marty Knollenberg did a news release and said, “The voluntary donations do not impact the state budget, yet they can help the World War II Legacy Fund enable those who defended our freedom to receive an appropriate monument in their honor here in our community.”(Pepple) He and Sen. Steve Bieda decided to establish a Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial Fund in the Michigan Treasury and would let state tax filers make a voluntary charitable contribution to the cause when they file a return. When asked about the Memorial, Bieda said,
“I’m excited to be part of this. We have so many veterans who are dying every day. It’s a well-publicized project, one that has a great deal of significance for the veterans and their families, and for those of us who weren’t around during this time period but have a great degree of respect for the men and women of this country who fought and died during the war.”(Louwers)
Since the Royal Oak City Commission approved the design plans, the nonprofit Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial has been working to raise $3 million.
Another way that someone could help the cause is by buying and inscribing bricks that will line the Walk of Honor, which will ring the memorial and its pillars, statues, and walls of star representing Michigan’s lives lost. Chris Zimmel of Clawson, a legacy project volunteer said,
“One man almost has his whole life story on a 16-by-16 brick. He was a bomber who flew 55 sorties then married the love of his life. His brick even says I heart Louise. Other bricks are as simple as someone’s name with an inscription that says loved family, loved country.”(Kavanaugh)
One final way that someone could help is by volunteering. There are many events that need people to be at and help make it run smoothly. A volunteer can also be behind the scenes in areas of social media, education, planning, databasing, and many more. This project is run completely by volunteers, so if there isn’t anyone willing to work then events can’t take place to help teach the community about such an important time in history.
Former Army Staff Sgt. Bill Brown, who has visited the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. said of the monument,
“Any memorial dedicated to the memory of our veterans is a wonderful thing.” Brown lives in Northville currently and served from 1943-1945 in France, Belgium, Britain, and Scotland. His story is one of determination and dedication. After he returned home, he received a bank loan and bought an auto repair business. He managed to increase the size of the business and sold it to one of his employees in 1985, and it still operates to this day. He also has a pilot’s license and owned a plane until he was 87, then he sold it to his son.(Cain)
Gaining the respect and approval of the veterans that this monument is trying to honor is a big part of this project. Being that the number driving reason to start this project was to give the veterans a chance to pay their respects to their fellow soldiers from their home state in which they fought with, it is important that they also appreciate the work being done.
“I think it’s important that we try to recognize that generation, the men and women who not only served, but the families of those who served as well,” Knollenberg added. “We want to continue this legacy so people don’t forget those folks that served for us.” (Louwers) The World War II memorial in Royal Oak, Michigan is a place that allows current and future generations to be inspired and dream in the state that was home to the Arsenal of Democracy. The reason Detroit became known as the Arsenal of Democracy is that the city was just 2% of the United State population, but produced 10% of the materials necessary for war. More than 600,000 Michigan veterans will be honored, and another 700,000 residents that worked in the factories at the time. The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial will serve a place to gather, remember, and inspire. It is a memorial designed with the desire to engage the community and educate future generations on the vision, values, and heroic efforts of the greatest generation.
- Cain, Carol (2018). Michigan WWII memorial coming to Royal Oak in 2020
- Brush, Mark (2013). Group raising money to build Michigan’s World War II memorial. Michigan
- Louwers, Brian (2018). Bill aim to support memorial for state’s World War II vets. Michigan
- Pepple, Steven (2018). Royal Oak WWII memorial, amphitheater boosted by new Michigan Law. Michigan
- Staff, Stateside (2018). New tax law could help first official Michigan WWII Memorial get off the ground. Michigan
- Kavanaugh, Catherine (2012). WWII Memorial site to be dedicated in Royal Oak. Michigan
- Kavanaugh, Catherine (2013). Michigan’s official World War II memorial to be built in Royal Oak. Michigan
7. Artistic Element: Statues and Pillars. Michigan
For Further Reading
- The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial. Michigan