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US WWII Memorial

Keizer WWII veteran shares in dedication


Statesman Journal

May 30, 2004

Joseph Ward Pope

WASHINGTON — The nation officially dedicated a memorial to its World War II veterans on a sunny day filled with music and memories of another time.

At Saturday’s ceremony, President Bush and former Sen. Robert Dole, a wounded and decorated World War II vet, welcomed and honored the sea of men and women at the National Mall.

“When it mattered most, an entire generation of Americans showed the finest qualities of our nation and our humanity,” Bush told the audience of thousands. “On this day in their honor, we will raise the American flag over a monument that will stand as long as America itself.”

The crowd was larger than any Joe Pope handled as part a 25-man unit of the Army’s 5th Special Service Company responsible for the logistics of getting movies, live entertainment and leisure activities to soldiers. His unit took shows on the road in the New Guinea, the Philippines and eventually Osaka, Japan.

“The largest we ever got was 25,000 GIs,” said Pope, 84, of Keizer.

When Bush and Dole asked the thousands of veterans, family and friends to stand, they each added, “as you are able.”

In those words, they acknowledged that the dedication had come nearly 60 years after the war ended in 1945 and that the men and women who survived the war are now grandparents and great-grandparents.

Pope, a Missouri native who came to Oregon as a United Airlines employee, said he put World War II behind him when he was discharged in 1945. He came East this week out of curiosity hoping to see some of his former comrades.  Despite having cancer of the larynx, he never worried about not living to see the memorial.

“I’m quite pleased with it. I have no objections to anything about it,” Pope said.

About 117,000 tickets were distributed for the dedication, but thousands more people were in the area hoping for tickets, listening to the ceremonies or attending the many other related events in Washington this weekend.

Pope said he did not think the dedication ceremony, despite a lot of publicity, would stir much interest in World War II among younger people.

“There are not too many history buffs out there,” he said.

Pope was encouraged, though, by a T-shirt worn by several young people. It read, “My grandfather is a hero.”

Copyright 2004 Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon.

Joseph Ward Pope was joined at the dedication by his younger sister Peggy Conn who wrote the following letter.

The younger of my two brothers (and the only surviving one, Ward), came from his home in Salem, Oregon on Thursday to join in the celebration of the dedication of the new World War II Memorial.  I'm not sure how many of you are even interested in it, since the war wasn't a direct involvement in a lot of your lives.  But since I had two big brothers and a brother-in-law all in service at that time, it was a major concern in my life.  Thankfully, all three of them came home safely.  However, if Ward hadn't come, I would not have gone down to the memorial at this time, and I'm so grateful I did.

We went in yesterday, first going to the memorial site itself, then to the other end of the Mall where all kinds of tents were set up for the veterans.  I wasn't expecting to be impressed with the memorial itself, as there have all kinds of reviews of the architecture, design, etc., not to mention the long fight to keep it off the national Mall ("too many other memorials," "it would distract from the Lincoln & Washington memorials," etc.).  I tended to agree with that, as I think of the whole space as rather sacred to the country and not to be cluttered up or filled up with one piece of statuary after another.  The architect/designers managed to overcome the sight line problem by lowering it (which isn't easy to do on what was formerly flood plain/swamp to begin with), so that the wonderful view from either of the aforementioned isn't compromised in any way.  I'm not sure yet what my opinion will be once it is not filled with the veterans whom it honors.  But it surely was impressive with them.  Old, straight or bent over, walking (many with canes) or being pushed along, and of every size and shape, and truly from every state and territory, it was remarkable.  The pillars which surround the pool each have a state or territory name on them, so many were posing next to their state, while others had placed flowers or pictures of their lost loved one at the base.  

My thought was that yesterday the memorial came alive with all these old veterans and their extended families as they took it all in.

Seeing all those old soldiers (and sailors and marines and all) was so moving.  It was a very large crowd, but it never was a problem.  Maybe they had learned patience while waiting 60 years for any memorial.  Lots of emotions had to be playing in the minds of all of them, but very few were openly displayed.  There were a large number in wheelchairs, some with oxygen tanks, some you could almost see fading away before your eyes.  But others were nearly as ramrod straight as they had been 60 years ago, and at least a dozen were there wearing their old uniforms. (Is that a type of bragging that you can fit in your old uniform?) Probably the most impressive was a man at least in his mid-80s who was wearing his Navy uniform -- I can't even think what they were called, maybe middies? -- anyway, the ones with the "sailor collars" and the bellbottom pants.  Other than the movies, I don't think I've seen that in the last fifty years, and he was just wonderful.  I began wishing I had taken my camera after all.  I figured Ward had his, and what would I need with more pictures.  But it would have been quite easy to fill a "coffee table book" with vignettes I observed.  One of my favorites was a thin older man with a weatherbeaten face, wearing overalls and posing, absolutely expressionless, at the side of the column inscribed for his state, Tennessee. 

At another point, there was a striking-looking command-type man perfect in his uniform, not very tall, but with great bearing and presence, posing for a photo just as one of the Rolling Thunder motorcycle group walked by.  The cyclist was emaciated looking (long-time drug user?), with tattoos everywhere, and the juxtaposition of the two could not have been greater.

That motorcycle bunch has been coming to town on Memorial Day for quite a number of years, first to call attention to and to honor the Vietnam MIA's, but now to me they just seem like a ragtag motorcycle gang -- though now numbering a mind-boggling 200,000.  It seemed to me that they could have stayed away this year, possibly out of respect for the WW II veterans, as they just make more crowd, way more noise, and more work for the police -- and don't add a thing to the scenery. (Do you note a bias possibly appearing here?)

Once we came to the wall of stars, it was just overwhelming.  Each of the gold stars there represents 100 deaths, and the long curved wall seems to go on forever.  I hope your paper will carry pictures of some of the details, and that you have the opportunity to watch some of the TV coverage, which I hope will portray them.  There were many moments when my throat caught or tears welled, and when we were under the Pacific centerpiece, taps was played from the matching Atlantic one directly opposite but across the vast pool and fountains.  At first it was hard to distinguish it, or even to see the musician, but silence fell and at the end there was a prolonged silence, then applause.  I noticed that several of the men had removed their hats and held them over their hearts during the playing.  That is something that is difficult to hear without a lot of emotion at any time, but in this setting, it was truly memorable.

There were several more who will stick in my mind:  the man in a wheelchair wearing shorts with both leg stumps fully exposed; two very elderly women in their golf-type jackets with "WAVES" spelled out across the back; several with their ribbons pinned on their polo shirts.  (Nancy asked later if that was allowed, and we agreed it was unlikely anyone was going to stop them.) 

I didn't realize that there hadn't been a single person in that area eating or carrying any kind of food or drink until one of the Rolling Thunder group dropped a soda can (which he quickly picked up and stowed in his pocket).  It really was a sober setting, giving respect to the memorial.

We noticed lots of multi-generational groups, perhaps giving children, grandchildren or perhaps great grandchildren a glimpse of what had mattered to their grandfather.  And lots of middle-aged sons with their widowed mothers, helping to find the units in which their loved one had served.  The volunteers were wonderful.  Once we left the memorial and went to the area of the Mall set up with all the tents, you could hardly go five yards without either being offered a bottle of water, having someone inquire if you were looking for any specific area, or just welcoming you to the event and thanking the veterans for their service.  Ward was wearing his 50-year Red Cross volunteer pin, and at the Red Cross booth, they were so excited to see him, all had to shake his hand, and they must have taken half a dozen pictures of him.  I'm sure that made him feel especially good.

There were areas where you could line up to have your picture taken with either baseball All-Stars of the era Monte Irwin and Bob Feller (I think that's who it was -- my mind is getting fuzzy, but I remember it was a famous pitcher), or this large, old, white haired hunk of a man that I finally got to see the front of, recognizing Jack Palance.  He seemed to be almost carved out of stone (or in a trance) as he sat and wrote and wrote -- whatever anyone wanted along with their picture with him.

The big disappointment for Ward was not only that there was no one from his outfit, but no specific listing for it so he couldn't find anyone he had known.  He was in Special Services (5th as I recall), and there were only about 25 men in the group.  He knew at least five of them were dead, but hoped others might show up.  But neither on the web site registry nor in the "reunion tent" did he find either a listing for Special Services nor the names he could remember. We did tease him later that he might have had better luck (or recognition) at the WACs area, since nearly all his wartime pictures from the South Pacific show him surrounded by either them or nurses. 

At breakfast yesterday we got him to tell more about just where he was, and doing what.  He enjoyed telling that the ship he was on for nearly four weeks from the States pulled into a harbor in Australia (I've forgotten the town I didn't know to begin with) and sat there for about four hours without anyone disembarking, then they were off to New Guinea.  We got out the atlas so he could show us where all those unfamiliar named places were.  He said there was one island off New Guinea that he would have liked to turn into a vacation spot, had he had the money to do so.  I think next was the Philippines, at least two different areas, and two weeks after V-J day, he was in Osaka, Japan where he remained until finally getting shipped home in December.

Special Services, rather than being the gung ho advance troop he thought he was getting into, turned out to be the ones who set up all the shows, escorted the USO tours around, and carried movies from place to place.  (That latter accounts for why he hasn't gone to more than a half dozen movies in the past 50 years.  He said he watched Casablanca 36 times when at one point it plus an Abbott & Costello movie and one with Gene Autry were the only ones he had to distribute for something like six weeks.) His favorite entertainers, and to his mind the nicest ones, were Ray Bolger and Little Jack Little.  He said Kay Kayser was in the middle of a show when V-J day was announced, and rather than celebrating or being relieved that the danger had disappeared, he just walked off and demanded to be taken to the airport to leave immediately.  Bob Hope didn't get any points when he stayed at Gen. MacArthur's HQ and someone from there demanded a piano for their use that night (a private show) when Ward only had one piano and had a big show that night for the troops.  A lot of weight was thrown around from the HQ and they sent a truck and took the piano.  No show for the GIs.  He did say, in fairness, that he didn't know that either Bob Hope nor the general knew what was being done in their names.

The war was so much more personal to me than it probably was to most of you, as I didn't know anybody else with brothers old enough to be serving, while we had the little window hanging with the three blue stars -- and were so grateful that we never had to change any to gold.  When we didn't have a letter for long periods of time, which happened way too often, it was hard to just keep going to school where nobody else shared that experience.  So even though I wasn't a veteran being honored today, I really felt part of it. 

What a wonderful and special generation they are.

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