Lasting Legacy

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World War II memorial will honor Michiganders who served here and abroad.

At the Royal Oak site for the memorial are Jewish War Veterans Jerry Order and Art Fishman, Oak Park; Dave George, Auburn Hills; Bob Russman and Marty Meyers, Farmington Hills; and Steven Haas, West Bloomfield. (Photos by Jerry Zolynsky)
At the Royal Oak site for the memorial are Jewish War Veterans Jerry Order and Art Fishman, Oak Park; Dave George, Auburn Hills; Bob Russman and Marty Meyers, Farmington Hills; and Steven Haas, West Bloomfield. (Photos by Jerry Zolynsky)

In the 1989 film Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character Ray, an Iowa farmer, is awakened by a haunting voice that calls to him from his cornfield … “If you build it, he will come.” I can relate. No, I’ve never been mistaken for Kevin Costner; George from Seinfeld maybe, but never Costner. And I’ve never been mistaken for a farmer; someone who likes to graze, yes, but I’m no farmer. But I am honored and privileged to be part of a project like “Ray’s” ball field that will transform a parcel of land into a magical place that countless people will flock to — the Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial in Royal Oak’s Memorial Park.

It’s here that we will pay homage to the unique contributions the state of Michigan made in securing our victory in the “war that changed the world” — from our state’s 600,000 men and women who served abroad, to countless others who served on the home front, where “Rosie the Riveter” and the “Arsenal of Democracy” were born.

Even in its infancy, the Legacy Memorial project has officially been recognized by the Michigan Legislature as the state’s tribute to WWII, and the city of Royal Oak has followed suit with its own declaration of support.

By Alan Muskovitz
By Alan Muskovitz

So, how did I, whose only active “military duty” came as a safety patrol boy at Schoenhals Elementary School in Southfield, become involved? All I can tell you is that, from an early age, I’ve had strong admiration for those who put their lives on hold and on the line to protect our freedom. Perhaps growing up watching Bob Hope’s USO Christmas Specials from military bases around the world did the trick; I don’t know. But what I do know is that this Legacy Memorial must be built. And when we build it, “they will come.”

The project was born out of a program called Honor Flight Michigan; whose mission was to fly Michigan’s WWII veterans to Washington, D.C., free of charge, to see their national memorial. As guardians on a flight, my son Daniel and I witnessed firsthand an emotional one-day journey and the indelible memory it created for our aging vets.

After flying nearly 1,400 veterans to our nation’s capital, it became apparent to our organization that if our veterans could no longer make it to their memorial, then we would have to bring it to them. The sun is setting on our “Greatest Generation.” However, with the Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial, we will ensure that their courage and sacrifice will be illuminated for generations to come.

Jewish War Vets
One of my responsibilities as a Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial board member is to reach out and inform our Jewish war veterans (JWV) about the project. I’m happy to report that the response has been incredible.

Jewish War Veterans Art Fishman of Oak Park and Bob Russman of Farmington Hills share a laugh.
Jewish War Veterans Art Fishman of Oak Park and Bob Russman of Farmington Hills share a laugh.

I’m proud to include Bob Russman and Art Fishman, of JWV Posts 474 and 510 respectively, among my new soldier buddies; though I’ve yet to talk about my safety patrol boy years with them. Like many of their comrades, they are humble men who, without hesitation, answered the call to defend our nation. Their love of country and resolve is just as strong today, and they’ve proven that by opening their hearts, homes and the doors to their posts to help ensure that the Legacy Memorial becomes a reality. Their big battle has been over for decades, but they have “re-upped” to help us conquer ours.

A couple of weeks ago, Bob and Art, along with several of their fellow proud post members, joined me and Russell Levine, our board’s vice president, on a visit to the site that the city of Royal Oak has generously set aside for the Legacy Memorial. What a treasure it was to be among these gentlemen on this bright and beautiful day. We stood together beside the natural tree line that encircles the parcel; embracing the area that was destined to be the home of something special. Nattily dressed in a crisp blue blazer and a JWV cap, Bob gazed at the memorial site.

“The whole thing is going to be great,” he said. “I went to the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C., on the Honor Flight. It was huge. This will be our WWII Memorial for Michigan.”

I met Art Fishman several months ago for breakfast. He paid. What? You wanted me to insult a veteran? Art actually sought me out after hearing about our plans. His reaction was to ask, “How can I get involved. What can I do to make it better?” You already have, Art. I can’t keep up with this guy. When Art Fishman wants something done, it gets done!

I saw Art a few weekends ago, taking a lead role as an organizer at the Walk for Israel in West Bloomfield. He even volunteers to help people park their cars at the Woodward Dream Cruise! I assure you, I take more naps than him, if he takes one at all. What an inspiration.

A rendering of the Memorial
A rendering of the Memorial

My journey to reach out to Jewish war veterans made a stop at the Holocaust Memorial Center (HMC), where Stephen Goldman, the executive director, has proven to be an invaluable resource, graciously sharing his wealth of experience in the construction and fundraising phases of building the memorial. Ironically, at the time of our initial meeting, plans were well under way at the HMC to build a lasting tribute to Russian and American Jewish WWII veterans. To know Goldman is to know that he views every project that continues to preserve and inform about the WWII experience worthy of his and our community’s support.

I know for certain that if “we” build it, “they” will come, and I can say without reservation that the Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial will have a “wow” factor. It will be a destination location. The memorial will tell the “who, what and where” of the Michigan WWII story; from the war front to the home front. Pillars will represent how Michigan supported the war effort through sacrifice, service, industry, labor, personal commitment and change.

A large, walk-able map of Michigan will illustrate the unique contributions our state made for securing victory. The memorial’s architect, Michael Gordon of Moiseev/Gordon Associates, whose father was a veteran, has provided incredible leadership and vision. During a recent interview on WDET-FM, Michael eloquently stated that it is “important to honor [our veterans] and to create a space of celebration so that this space has purpose into the future; because what they fought and died for was the freedom for us to enjoy the lives we have.”

Then there are the statues. They will be breathtaking. Created by local sculptor Larry Halbert, three dramatic, life-sized scenes will depict land, sea and air perspectives of the war and how they connect with the home front here in Michigan. One scene will show airmen preparing to take flight as Rosie the Riveter works on manufacturing their plane at the Willow Run Assembly Plant. There will be a “Walk of Honor” displaying engraved messages and remembrances on brick pavers that have been purchased to support the Legacy Memorial. Plus, a dramatic “Wall of Stars” will forever remind us of the Michigan soldiers who paid the ultimate price.

Peaceful, Not Somber
For all the solemnity of this subject, the Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial will not be a somber place. Yes, at appropriate times, it will be a place of reflection, a place to remember, a place to educate future generations. But Michael Gordon said it best: It must also be a place of “celebration” — a celebration of the Michigan men and women, both here and abroad, who selflessly stepped up to take on the task of saving our nation, our freedom and the world.

This scale model of Rosie the Riveter by sculptor Larry Halbert shows the commitment of women in the workforce during WWII.
This scale model of Rosie the Riveter by sculptor Larry Halbert shows the commitment of women in the workforce during WWII.

So, what would a great project like this be without a pitch, right? Hang in there with me. We need help and a lot of it. Not one penny to build this magnificent memorial will come from taxpayers. But every penny raised will make a difference.

It’s estimated that we will need $4 million to make our dream a reality; this includes an endowment to maintain the memorial. We are a grassroots, roll-up-your-sleeves organization, but we are making progress. And we will succeed.

It’s virtually impossible to find a Michigan resident whose family wasn’t touched by WWII. And now the time has come to build a lasting tribute to our Michigan soldiers and workers so that we will always have a place to cherish this state’s unique and incomparable role during a war that forever changed the destiny of the Jewish people.

If we build it, they will come. And when we build it, we will all be proud.

To learn how you can be a part of this great legacy, too, visit www.michiganWW2memorial.org. Thank you. 

Alan Muskovitz is a writer, voice-over/acting talent, speaker and emcee. Visit his website at laughwithbigal.com and “like” Al on Facebook.

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