Canton Repository

April 30, 2004

Memorial opens to WWII

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON -- World War II veterans are famous for their reticence in sharing memories of the Big One. Yet the opening of a sleek new memorial on the Mall on Thursday seems to have opened up a few of them.

“He never talked about the war all of these years until they started talking about this memorial,” observed Maria Corvelli of her husband, Nicholas, a veteran of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division.

They were among dozens of people who wandered through the $172 million World War II Memorial, which will be officially dedicated May 29.

Trading stories with another veteran, Corvelli of Alexandria, Va., recalled how close he came to losing his life when his platoon was under fire in Okinawa.

Under orders from a sergeant, Corvelli sprang out of his foxhole to help unload a shipment of ammunition and water.

“I left two of my buddies in the hole,” he said. While he was away, an enemy mortar shell landed nearby, blowing shrapnel into his leg and killing the other two soldiers.

“God saved his life,” his wife added.

Walter N. Morgan of Arlington, Va., spent the war translating Japanese documents in Washington, D.C., and never made it overseas.

“I think you did your share,” Corvelli told Morgan, who served in the Navy.

Reactions to the gleaming edifice, which consists of two enormous granite arches and a large reflecting pool, were largely positive.

Walter Chew of Menlo Park, Calif., felt the size and prominence of the structure, which is situated between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, represent the high regard that Americans have for veterans of the war.

“I think it’s well done in that regard,” said Chew, who served in the Merchant Marine.

His friend, William Snell of Coatesville, Pa., who served with him, found fault with one aspect of the monument. Unlike the nearby Korean and Vietnam memorials, he noted, this one doesn’t have any statues or representations of troops.

“It’s rather static,” he said.

Fifty-six bronze pillars, one for every state and territory, flank the circular memorial.

As a flag whipped in the breeze, its edge in profile to the Washington Monument in the distance, Corvelli explained why he avoided discussing the war in the past.

“It was just something I didn’t want to burden anyone with,” he said. The new memorial, he said, “opened up my mind and heart. We just needed it.”

His wife, though, was already planning to write a letter to President Bush complaining about the poor seats they were assigned for the upcoming dedication.

“I’m going to tell him people who have Purple Hearts should be in the first section, not the last section,” she said.

Many who served in World War II feel it’s about time that war found a place of honor in the capitol.

“It just seemed like we were almost forgotten about for a while,” said E. Vincent Lee, an Army Air Corps veteran from Wilmington, Del.

A tail gunner in a B-24 bomber, Lee bailed out when his aircraft was shot down over Vienna, Austria, and spent the rest of the war as a POW.

“It wasn’t very nice,” he recalls. “We didn’t have enough food and we weren’t warm enough.”

But his captors never abused him, he added.

Lee, moving about in a wheelchair, credited quotations from presidents and generals engraved into the memorial for a flood of memories.

“I remember those speeches being made,” he said.

At one side of the memorial, 4,000 gold stars represent the more than 400,000 Americans who died in the war.

“That’s the most impressive thing, these gold stars,” said Don Hassin, a World War II Army veteran from Clearwater, Fla.

Patsy Ramsay from Romulus, Mich., wished her father were still alive to visit the memorial.

“He would be here, immediately,” she said.

Her father, a World War II veteran, loved the nation and the military and never missed a parade after leaving the Navy.

“He went in when he was 15,” she said. “He lied to get into the service.”

Ramsay said her father was distraught when he sought duty in Vietnam and was rejected because of his age.

For Stefanie Yanosko, a 14-year-old from Amherst, Ohio, who was visiting Washington on a school trip, World War II is something that happened a long time ago.

“We just finished learning about it in Social Studies,” she said. The memorial, she added, is “really awesome.”