Pa. veteran’s mapping project helps show war memorials’ importance to U.S. communities
After living in York County, Pa. for 70 years, Al Rose found himself driving down roads he’d never traveled before, searching for coordinates on a map that didn’t yet exist.
At times, the then-88-year-old wound up driving in circles.
Sometimes, even after he found the right address, Rose, who suffers from neuropathy and leans on a cane when he walks, would falter. Once, he fell along the road, causing passing motorists to stop and see if he was OK.
But no matter how difficult, the mission was too important to give up.
“I’m interested in history, per se, and anything we can keep a record of in the way of history is very important to me,” Rose said, sitting in his home.
Rose’s weathered, strong hands paged through a binder, the first of three or four, containing photographs and newspaper clippings. Pulling the binder close, Rose angled his right eye — he’s blind in his left — and looked through his glasses at the fruit of his work: coordinates for what might be the first map of veterans’ memorials in York County.
“I’ve tried to make it as easy as possible for the next person to find,” he said, leaning close to the page. “If I have another month in my life, I should have it done.”
Rose started work on the map in fall 2011 for the York County Heritage Trust. It now details more than 60 veterans’ memorials throughout York County.
Lila Fourhman-Shaull, director of Library & Archives, wanted to create the map to be used in an exhibit about York countians at war. She asked Rose, who had been volunteering at the trust since his retirement in 1985 for help.
A year later, he’s still working on it.
Memorials across the country speak to the deeds that shaped America
The memorials Al Rose is charting in York County are no different than other memorials that exist in big and small town across America. Some are more well known than others — like the Vietnam Veterans and Korean War memorials in Washington, D.C. — but Michael Litterst, a public affairs specialist with the National Park Service, said all memorials are created equal.
“Whether or not they’re preserved in a national park or a town square in York, Pa., I think those monuments always have the same purpose: monuments help us focus on the deeds and events in the past,” Litterst said.
He said the battlefields in Gettysburg would look no different than farmland if not for the markers and monuments.
“But you get there today,” Litterst said, “and the Pennsylvania Monument that has the names of everybody who fought…all those things speak to the deeds…that really helped make this country what it is today.”
Likewise, preservation everywhere is important, Litterst said: “It all helps to remind us where we came from.”
Those reminders are still being built today.
- On Jan. 4, the South Carolina Army National Guard dedicated a memorial to honor three soldiers, 1st Lt. Ryan Rawl, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Thomas and Sgt. John Meador II, who were killed June 20, 2012, by a suicide bomber in Khost Province, Afghanistan.
- In Landrum, S.C., VFW Post 4873 recently dedicated the final phase of POW/MIA and combat infantrymen memorials. Charles Moore, post commander and a veteran of the Korean War, said work on the memorials started in 1999. Two granite monuments, which were the final phase, were dedicated Jan. 13. Moore said it was important the memorials be built now because so many of the members of the VFW post, veterans of World War II and the Korean War, are dying. It’s necessary to honor and remember “those who have secured our way of life,” Moore said. “We should remember those who have made possible the freedoms we enjoy.”
- In December, NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary dedicated a memorial to commemorate the Civil War ironclad and its crew, according to The Outer Banks Voice. The memorial, in the Hampton National Cemetery in Hampton, Va., honors the ship, which was the first ironclad warship commissioned by the Navy during the Civil War. It sank during a storm on New Year’s Eve in 1862, killing 16 crew members. The Voice reported that at the memorial dedication, David Alberg, superintendent of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, said, “It is a privilege for us to honor these men and it is our hope that this monument will memorialize their efforts so that we may always remember the sacrifices they made for their country.”
- In Keyser, W.Va., a Blue Star highway marker was set to be dedicated Jan. 20 in honor of veterans of all wars, according to the News Tribune. The News Tribune reported there are Blue Star markers in all 50 states, with more than 2,500 nationwide.
- In Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., the Freedom Courtyard, a monument and reflection area, was dedicated to veterans of all wars on Jan. 12, according to the Contra Costa Times. The memorial includes a fountain with five granite pillars, one for each branch of the military.
‘A tree in the forest’
Before Al Rose could map the York County memorials, he had to find them. That’s where his shoebox of photographs and binders of information came from.
He looked through newspaper articles from the World War II era for clues about planned memorials. Reading the articles from back then was fun, he said; he had been drafted into the war from Adams County, Pa. and didn’t read them the first time around.
But the work was long. A roll of microfilm covered about a month and a half of newspapers. It took one day to look through one roll, he said. He looked at microfilm two days a week for more than a year.
“I had to look at nearly every article because many times there were things hidden in social news or county news,” he explained.
After he had a list of memorials, Rose set out to find them.
He drove to towns, then would ask the locals for walking directions to the memorials. Many are easy to overlook.
To the locals, they became part of the landscape. When he asked where a memorial was, Rose said, “most of the time, you got a blank stare. People didn’t know anything about it.”
He spoke of grocery stores, fire companies, pizza shops and even veterans’ organizations he stopped in only to be told no veterans’ memorial existed nearby. But when he walked out the door — or in the case of one grocery store, when he looked out the window — there was the memorial, staring back at him.
Some memorials are found in obscure places, like the one on the back of a church sign in Glen Rock. Many can be overlooked in plain sight, like a plaque on a rock at the intersection of Main Street and Zeigler Road in Wellsville. Others have become part of the landscape, like the one in Conewago Township, a small concrete slab with a plaque on top that sits beside a basketball court next to a playground and a baseball field.
“They’re like a tree in the forest,” Rose said of some memorials. “You don’t see the tree, but you see the forest.”
Memorials help tell veterans’ stories
Rose said he’s nearly content with his work. But he and Fourhman-Shaull know there’s likely information out there that could lead to the discovery of more memorials.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Fourhman-Shaull said. “As you uncover one thing, you find another lead that takes you down another road.”
Rose will turn 90 on March 31, and he’s decided to stop driving. In addition to the neuropathy, he has sprained ligaments in his ankle. Still, he plans to get a ride back to some of the memorials to take better photographs.
“That’s maybe wishful thinking for an old man,” he said, grinning. “But I have plans. Maybe plans help to keep you young.”
Moore, 84, said it may be wishful thinking that the memorial in Landrum, S.C., will withstand the test of time.
It’s a concern, he said, “about who is going to maintain it (the memorial) because our post was comprised mostly of World War II and Korean (war) veterans,” he said.
Including Vietnam War veterans, the post had 96 members at one time. “Now we’re down to 54, with people dying” and some members moving closer to family members to be cared for in their old age.
“The young guys from Iraq and Afghanistan…they’re busy getting their lives together and having families,” Moore said, noting maybe the younger veterans will join the post in “10 or 20 years.”
Moore said it’s possible the memorial will be turned over to the county in the future. He noted the town cuts the grass at the memorial now since the post has no one else to do it.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen with it,” he said. “Maybe we’ll get into another war and our membership will go up,” he joked.
In case that doesn’t happen, Moore said the post made the memorial with “sturdy” materials, concrete and steel, to last as long as possible.
Cathy Beeler, the Civil War to Civil Rights coordinator at the National Park Service, said everyone can relate to history, and can therefore find importance in the veterans’ memorials, if they take the time.
“You look closely and see how you can relate,” she said of war memorials and monuments, big and small.
“You start connecting the dots, and history gets to be like a tapestry,” she said. “At first the pictures may seem black and white, but after you start weaving the stories together, it becomes a very rich, bright tapestry. It becomes very meaningful. It becomes what you want it to be. It’s your view based on all of the stories, and you see it through your eyes.”
Beeler said if people take the time to find the meaning of the memorials, if they find a way to relate to the stories of veterans the memorials stand for, there is no risk they will be forgotten.
“As long as we never stop telling those stories or censor those stories, we’ll be OK,” she said.