BROOKVILLE — The new World War II KIA/MIA Memorial was unveiled in Brookville on Friday afternoon in the courtyard of the Jefferson County Courthouse.
The memorial was the second of two projects taken on by the Laurel Festival this year. The first one was the naming of the Pickering Street Bridge in honor of Jim Slagle. While it was first thought to erect a similar monument to that honoring the county’s World War I veterans, “the number of names of those men and women from Jefferson County who served in World War II was so numerous, it was impossible to place every name on a memorial as was done for World War I,” Randy Bartley, of American Legion Post 102, said. “The project settled on was a memorial in honor of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice during World War II.”
Jefferson County Commissioner Herb Bullers said, “During World War II, men and women from across this great nation fought to defend our freedom by engaging in battles in other countries. These brave people rallied to the cry for help and never hesitated to be strong and brave for all mankind. Never did they consider the fact that we the people of this nation are from different parts of the world but live as one nation under God. In times of conflicts, brave women and men lose their lives so this nation can continue to be free. Today we are here to show a display of gratitude to the brave heroes that gave their lives for the future of this nation and for Jefferson County. The memorials on display here are just a small tribute to those who lost their lives. Today we want to thank all those who once served or who are serving this great nation today. We especially want to remember the families who lost a loved one. What a sacrifice. Thank you so much.”
W.O. Ira Minor, U.S. Army (Ret.) joined the joined the New York National Guard in the closing days of World War II and served in the Army during the Korean War and Vietnam. He talked about those serving in World War II.
“We’re here today to dedicate a memorial to our soldiers and sailors who died defending our country in the struggles against the dictatorships that tried to destroy us in World War II. Here outside the walls of this courthouse a new monument has been erected in their honor. The names are there, all 173 of them. I will always remember these men, my military comrades in arms. They were a bit older than me. I was 13 years old that December so I did not have to put on a uniform. I had the honor of serving with them in 1945 when I joined the New York State Militia (Guard). They were my mentors then and later on they were my mentors when I joined the Army in 1950,” Minor said.
“The men of this area, they were young and they were full of fear. An almost unknown foe had attacked us at Pearl Harbor, with the Germans and Italians piling on a few days later. These were the men of Jefferson County. They were farmers, mill hands, miners and shop clerks growing up in a time when it took almost five hours to get to Erie or Pittsburgh. Imagine if you had the slightest bit of German, Serbian or Italian ancestry. You were going to have to fight your cousins and uncles even though very few of them ever went back to the old country. Many of them had never left what we now call the Tri-County Area. But there is one thing that they did possess and that was a love of country. They overcame their fears. Many joined the armed services even before they were drafted. They signed up by twos, threes and even larger groups. Sometimes the town band saw them off to the railroad station. Where did they go? They didn’t come back to Jefferson County. They trained at Fort Dix, N.J, Fort Hood in Texas, and Fort Bragg in N.C.
“They trained in the United States for an overseas war that was calling them. Again, some of them never came back. A trickle of them wound up in North Africa, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands but the big push was yet to come. By 1942, Great Britain was being built up as the launch pad for the 1944 D-Day invasion of Europe. And the names on this monument are the names of those that did not return. They were missed by their sisters, their brothers and their parents. A few of them left children. Their names should be memorialized and mean more to us than a simple incision on a stone,” Minor said.
“These men should not be forgotten. What if their stories could live a little bit longer? Well there is a way. Let our young people take up the challenge. I’d like to see an Eagle Scout earn his badge by researching one or two of the names. Their lives should be fleshed out and to be made whole again. It’s possible because the grandchildren and children, they’re still alive. Perhaps the high school can even pick up the challenge as a genealogy or class project. But in the end, the events of World War II are almost 80 years back in time. However the events are still firm in the minds of some of us that are still standing and time is of the essence. Why, because two days ago was the 18th anniversary of the attack on the twin towers. Babies born on that day are now serving in Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. Our current wars and low-level strives tend to crowd out what a world conflict World War II was at that time – the greatest struggle of the last century. Let’s cut a resolve to do what we can do to keep the memories of these brave soldiers alive far into the next century.”
State Rep. Cris Dush, R-Brookville, spoke about the placement of the monument as a reminder to this and future generations.
“There’s a reason why we put the monuments in places like this, next to our courthouses, our halls of justice. It’s to remember that we are a nation of ideals and we also have to remember those who have gone before us to preserve those ideals, who have made those sacrifices. Some have come home, some have made the ultimate sacrifice but each one of these generations have had men and women who have put their lives on the line for each of us. When our men and women came back from the Second World War, especially those that came back from Germany, they brought back the films that Dr. Mengele and others in the concentration camps had done on their experiments with people, the extermination chambers, the concentration camps. They brought back videos that they had taken when they liberated those horrendous death camps. What happens when the rule of law goes away is just what those men and women saw. That’s why next to our halls of justice in America we’ve made it a point to put monuments like these to remember. And it’s important that we have the anniversary celebration this evening of the 150th anniversary of this courthouse, that we remind every generation, every 20 to 25 years or so, we need to constantly remind our kids and those coming behind us of what this constitutional republic is about. And remind them of the people who made those sacrifices.”
State Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Brockway, spoke of the leadership that allowed the men and women serving during World War II to overcome great odds in Normandy and elsewhere.
He had visited Normandy, France, for a leadership summit several years ago and said “the memory and the thoughts of being in Normandy are probably some thoughts that will never leave my mind. The cemeteries, being on Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc where our men and women put out a huge frontal assault against one of the finest army regimes, fighting people, in the world.” He noted that the question that was asked often was “How did we overcome? How did we overcome these great odds of this assault? And the answer was simple. It was leadership. It was leadership from Dwight D. Eisenhower right down to the company sergeant – leadership. And to those men and women who fought those battles – whether it was in Normandy, whether it was in Okinawa, Iwo Jima, pick whatever battle – the bravery, the dedication, the perseverance, the sacrifice of these young men and women is almost breathtaking to think about.”
He told of a World War II veteran from Luzerne County who is 94 years old. The veteran had served in a bomber, flying in 20 some missions over Germany. “And he tells me not one of the members of that crew were over 18 years old when they began and when they ended none of them were 21 years old. And when you think about these young men – young boys – out fighting as they did it brings great humility to all of us. So this monument, these monuments are certainly a necessary part so that we don’t forget, so future generations don’t forget the sacrifice that our men and women have given,” Scarnati said, adding “Let us not forget and let us thank them (those who fought in World War II) for their service.”
The newly unveiled World War II monument was engraved and placed by Korb Monument Inc., of DuBois. Bartley thanked Jim Korb for his patience as 173 names were gathered. “We think we got them all, but there’s a good possibility we missed a few. And Jim’s been gracious enough to say he’ll add them as time goes forward.”
Jim McCurdy, commander of the Jefferson County American Legion Council, said, “The veterans got together and decided we needed to take care of veterans monuments. We feel that these monuments should always be here and they should be taken care of.
“I’d like to personally thank the county commissioners for the money, for our recent cleaning of all the monuments. They’ve been here quite a while and they needed a little sprucing up. Also (I’d) like to thank Korbs for obtaining the gentleman that does that from Pittsburgh and I think they really look beautiful. And if you want to see what they really look like, stop at night with the lights on them,” McCurdy said.
Bartley noted that along with the commissioners, the members of the VFWs and American Legions in Jefferson County also supported the project.
William Littlefield, District American Legion commander and commander of American Legion Post 102, and Brookville Councilwoman Karen Allgeier, USN (Ret.) were also among those asked to speak during Friday’s ceremony.