Since I wrote my first article about the efforts by American Legion Post 2505 veterans who committed East St. Louisans in replacing the World War I memorial in a forgotten corner, there’s been some exciting news. The Post’s war memorial Committee has secured funding for Phase 1: the replacement and construction of sidewalks and flagpoles. A groundbreaking ceremony was held to celebrate the occasion on March 7. After the old monument was removed, it was put in storage. A third automobile crashed into its out-of-the-way location several months back, leaving deep, muddy tracks. You might consider it a confirmation that the old site is no longer worthy if you believe in such things.
Belleville’s Weiss Monument Works has already laid the concrete foundation at Jones Park’s entrance. They are now engraving the names on the stone, with some corrections made by Larry Kritis (committee member and historian). East St. Louis is honored to see the stone carved with the results of his research: “This was the moment our people gave their lives for the cause and the United States.”
Now that Phase I of the monument’s construction has been secured, Kris Wells has produced additional renderings of Phase II under the direction of Bob Winters, who envisioned the first plans. Wells’ images show how beautiful the completed monument will look, creating a cogent and renewed entrance to Jones Park, which is one of the jewels of East St. Louis. “I had never designed a memorial before,” he says, “so I took a look at other memorials, like the Washington Monument and the World Trade Center Memorial, and I used those with my design.”
Al Katzenberger, who alerted me last year to the war memorial effort, said that “the renditions are spectacular–I can’t wait to see them in reality.”
Winters says, “This is about creating a place. It was all about making it easy for people to visit the monument site and the plaza. Phase II adds to the memorial and permits future expansions.
The committee believes that Phase II will be a chance to remember the sacrifices of those who served after 1918 since the monument was originally dedicated before World War II. Instead of being left on an isolated island in traffic, the memorial will be integrated into the park’s fabric, including the obelisk, sidewalks, and benches.
The March 7th groundbreaking saw the East St. Louis community and the larger St. Clair County community come together at Jones Park to form a cohesive unit that fought against the cold. Felicia Peters, an American Legion Post member, organized the event. She received constant praise but shrugged off the tributes. “I think this is a wonderful and meaningful way to honor our military men and women.”
Claude Bush is the War Memorial Committee of American Legion Post 25,05.
Claude Bush, the chairman of the memorial committee, said that it was a great cross-section of all aspects of East St. Louis’ community, including public servants, veterans, and fraternal organizations. They sat together harmoniously. It was beautiful. It was a meeting.
St. Clair County Chairman Mark Kern was one of the civic leaders that spoke at the groundbreaking. Kern was instrumental in funding Phase I. Emeka Jackson, East St. Louis Mayor, and Irma Gaolliday, park director, took to the podium. John Holman, the post commander, gave a brief history of the monument. Frank Smith, the post chaplain, and the Rev. The opening and closing prayers were said by Dr. Derienza. The groundbreaking process is incomplete without earthmoving. So, the dignitaries took out shovels and began digging while the audience cheered.
Holman spoke with me after the dedication and said that he thought the ceremony was even more successful than we had anticipated. Although it was only one way on paper, when all the pieces were put together and all the speeches were made, it was clear that this was a huge community effort.
He anticipates the same for the unveiling ceremony and dedication ceremony which will take place Saturday, May 25, and be open to all. Kritis discovered the original program for the monument’s dedication. The committee decided to recreate a large portion of the ceremony with some modern additions. Final preparations are underway, and the fundraising continues. Jimmy Rice, a member of the committee, summarizes the sentiment of all involved by saying, “I’m excited for the final results of our hard work.”