Proudly, at every turn during the festivities, the Jewish community’s participation was on full display.
On April 7, an energized crowd of an estimated 400-plus attended a spirited groundbreaking ceremony for Phase I of The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial in Royal Oak’s Memorial Park. The memorial will be a place to inspire, educate and honor Michigan’s legacy of sacrifice, ingenuity and commitment in defense of our freedom on both the war front and home front, where we famously became known as the Arsenal of Democracy.
In 2013, the state Senate and House passed resolutions officially recognizing The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial as the state’s tribute to its contributions during WWII. Shortly thereafter, then-Gov. Rick Snyder signed a special tribute endorsing the recognition by the legislature.
Phase I includes the laying of more than 1,200 donated Walk of Honor engraved brick pavers, installation of a full-sized statue depicting a soldier reading a letter from home, the installation of flagpoles for each branch of the military and our state flag, plus the pouring of footings for a Wall of Stars and future scenes featuring nine statues. (See bottom of page for story.)
Honored guests at the groundbreaking included WWII veterans and original “Rosie the Riveters,” as well as more than a dozen military organizations, including the Tuskegee Airmen, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans.
A swell of patriotism was felt by all upon the arrival of active servicemen and women from the Air Force, Coast Guard, Navy and Merchant Marines. Plus, there was an impressive outpouring of support by more than two dozen current and former local, state and U.S. elected officials in attendance.
Proudly, at every turn during the festivities, the Jewish community’s participation was on full display.
Jewish War Veteran Support
The Jewish War Veterans, Department of Michigan (JWV) was announced as one of three lead sponsors for the day’s events, along with Beaumont Health, and Pegasus Entertainment, David Grossman, owner, who provided the audio system.
The JWV has a long history of support for the memorial’s efforts, having regularly sponsored their annual fundraising galas. Two of JWV’s own have been recipients of the gala’s Victory Awards: Art Fishman in 2016 and 100-year-old Guy Stern last October.
The JWV’s support continued at the groundbreaking with a large turnout of its membership, including WWII veterans, several of whom were accompanied by Vietnam veteran and JWV Senior Vice Commander Bill Glogower aboard a plush event bus rented by the organization. “I was very honored to be in their presence,” Glogower said. “They are,” his voice cracking with emotion, “our Greatest Generation.”
JWV Dept. of Michigan Commander Dr. Edward Hirsch, Colonel U.S. Army Special Forces (retired), was equally moved by the reception received by his most senior membership. “I was overwhelmed by the kindness shown to our WWII veterans,” he said. “I will always be reminded of their sacrifices so that we can live in a much better world today.”
Hirsch is no stranger to sacrifices made in defense of his country. When he was a team leader in Special Operations in Vietnam, a traumatic leg injury landed him in Walter Reed Army Medical Center for more than nine months, earning him his third Purple Heart.
Also on hand was JWV Department of Michigan Chief of Staff Donald Schenk, a retired Army brigadier general whose service included combat operations in Operation Desert Storm. “As a Baby Boomer and career Army officer,” Schenk said, “I am keenly aware of the significance of the sacrifices made by all members of the Greatest Generation. My parents served — my father in uniform and my mother on the home front.”
“The task now,” Schenk said, “is keeping those memories alive, which now falls to my generation and those who will follow. The Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial in Memorial Park in Royal Oak is Michigan’s sacred space for all to visit and learn about the contributions of Michigan’s sons and daughters.”
Schenk said being at the April 7 groundbreaking with members of the Jewish community was especially important since their planned 75th anniversary observance of the end of WWII in November 2020 was canceled due to the pandemic. “At last, we have closure, so the daring feats and contributions of these brave men and women will not be forgotten. With this memorial, we will have a permanent place in our community for all to reflect and remember. Indeed, time shall not dim the glory of their deeds.”
I had the privilege of introducing Rich Luterman, chief meteorologist at Fox 2 Detroit, himself a Jewish war veteran, U.S. Air Force, as the master of ceremonies. Luterman, served four and a half years on active duty as a weather officer. For six months in 1991, he was a weather detachment commander in Southwest Asia during Operation Desert Storm.
In conversations I had with him in the weeks leading up to his emceeing the groundbreaking, Luterman’s enthusiasm for the event was palpable. “I was so honored and humbled to be able to say that I was a part of this historic groundbreaking,” he said. “As a proud veteran, I am in awe of those who served in desperate times and sacrificed so much for our nation.”
Arguably the emotional highlight of the afternoon’s presentation, was Luterman’s introduction of WWII veterans and original “Rosie the Riveters” — among them seven Jewish War Veterans, at least two of whom were just a few months shy of their 100th birthdays.
Huddled out of the audience’s sight at the beginning of the program, each WWII veteran was given his own dramatic introduction, including recognition of the branch of service in which he served.
Upon hearing their names called, they appeared from behind a set of bleachers. Bundled up and braving the slightly inclement weather, some aided by walkers and wheelchairs, they made their way, one by one, onto the grounds of the memorial site.
These proud members of our Greatest Generation were greeted by cheers as volunteers from the Michigan chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution and the Red, White and Blue Star Mothers (MI-198, Troy) escorted them through a row of American flags to their seats.
Said Luterman: “To introduce and recognize the men and women who saved our world from tyranny and sacrificed so much for our nation is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
Levin Brings National Support
The irony of addressing those who helped save the world from a tyrannical leader, as the war in Ukraine rages on, was not lost on Congressman Andy Levin. Leading up to his presenting a Congressional Record proclamation to memorial board president John Maten, an impassioned Levin turned and directly addressed the WWII veterans and original “Rosie the Riveters” in the audience.
“You WWII veterans, Rosies, all of you … We all literally look to what you accomplished, what you sacrificed, what you did for freedom for this whole world. And we are not going to let Vladimir Putin take over Ukraine. We’re going to give the Ukrainians everything they need to beat them back. It’s a tribute to you that we’re just not going to let that happen.”
U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens was not in attendance but expressed her support on Facebook. She said, “Incredibly inspired by The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial honoring our veterans in Royal Oak today. Thrilled to see this gem in our community!”
A Groundbreaking — at Last
As a light mist descended upon the memorial site, the WWII veterans and original “Rosie the Riveters” were escorted into place for the official groundbreaking. Twenty glistening new shovels, decorated with the memorial’s logo and date of the groundbreaking, were at the ready for those who were able to perform the ceremonial digging into the large mound of dirt before them.
As his WWII comrades performed the symbolic groundbreaking, Jewish War Veteran Art Fishman, 95, senior vice commander emeritus of the JWV-Department of Michigan, took to the stage to share his sentiments. He emphasized in his remarks that it was incumbent upon those in attendance that we must also “Remember the heroes that are not here. They are the ones we dedicate this day to.”
For Fishman, who served in both the Army Air Corps and Navy during WWII, the memorial project has captured his heart and soul since its inception. His hours of volunteering, attendance at events and community connections to advance the project’s cause, are far too many to mention.
“We are building this memorial so that children who will see this will ask questions and ask for explanations why there is a WWII legacy memorial,” Fishman said. The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial has in fact established an educational component to the project for use by instructors.
“I have been part of this dedicated group for the past nine years,” Fishman continued. “I never thought I’d live so long as to see this as one of the burning candles of my 95 years. Thank you for lighting this candle.”
Fishman concluded his remarks as his fellow veterans and Rosies were joined alongside dignitaries and memorial board members for photo opportunities.
Two other members of the Jewish community had a profound impact on the day’s activities — Carolyn Krieger, owner of CKC Agency, a Metro Detroit public relations firm, and Alison Schwartz, vice president of public relations for the company. CKC counts several nonprofit Jewish organizations among its clientele. Schwartz spearheaded the campaign, helping bring overwhelming exposure to the memorial project.
When the dust had literally and figuratively settled on The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial groundbreaking, CKC’s outreach garnered press coverage by more than 500 media outlets across multimedia platforms including television, radio, internet, social media and print.
Thanks in large part to CKC’s coordination of an Associated Press story featuring Michigan WWII veterans and “Rosie the Riveters,” the memorial and groundbreaking event were covered in the media from coast to coast and beyond our borders, including in London, Singapore, Canada, Israel and the Philippines.
My personal favorite international media item was JWV member Art Fishman featured on the Hispanic version of the Celebrity.land website, which is billed as “the global source for celebrity news.”
JWV member Marty Myers, 95, shared a lighthearted moment about his age on Channel 7 Action News. The media buzz, though, didn’t distract him from the meaning of the moment.
“As I sat there, I could not forget the thousands of men and women who died 75-80 years ago,” he said.
Reflections from the Groundbreaking
In the days following the event, I phoned several of the Jewish WWII veterans who were in attendance. The following three, all in their late-90s, offered the following reflections about their experience at the groundbreaking:
• Sydney Harris (age 99), U.S. Army, 1944-1946; Rifleman, 87th Division, 3rd Army under Gen. Patton; Purple Heart recipient; member of JWV Lt. Raymond Zussman Post 135, said, “It was very nice because we played a vital part in WWII. We made the guns, we made the tanks, the bombers. We were, as President Roosevelt said, ‘the Arsenal of Democracy.’”
• Jack Caminker (age 99), U.S. Navy Air Corps., 1943-1946; Stateside Deck Officer and member of JWV Lt. Raymond Zussman Post 135, said, “The gathering was outstanding, and the representation was outstanding. I was delighted to see the Jewish War Veterans. I think we should be grateful to Royal Oak. It’s something every community should do to remember the boys and girls from WWII. I was impressed that the politicians were there.”
• Herman Kasoff (age 97), U.S. Army, 1943-1945; 3rd Ranger Battalion, later 1st Special Services Force and two-time Purple Heart recipient, said, “We had quite a turnout there. Guys I haven’t seen in years. I can’t believe after all these years there’s a WWII Memorial.”
My Personal Reflections
I am a proud patron of JWV Post 510 and enjoy the ongoing privilege of sharing time with the WWII veterans who I have come to know so well. I am also a past board member of The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial who continues to consult with the current leadership on media relations.
I cannot adequately describe the feeling I had witnessing the wonderful gathering at the April 7 groundbreaking of The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial.
I have long envisioned the day when our Michigan WWII veterans and “Rosie the Riveters” could stand in Memorial Park to see with their own eyes that their legacy of sacrifice, both on the war front and home front, would forever be secured by this awe-inspiring tribute.
It is incumbent upon us to harness the enthusiasm and momentum derived from the Phase I groundbreaking to propel the memorial project onto future phases. From individual brick paver donations to corporate sponsorships, every contribution builds upon the memorial’s foundation.
Let the April 7 groundbreaking be the catalyst that will one day soon allow the treasured Michigan members of our Greatest Generation to return to see this memorial mission accomplished.
The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial: Its History and Future
• The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial began as Honor Flight Michigan in 2007, providing one-day, all-expense-paid trips to Washington, D.C., for our WWII veterans to see their national memorial.
• After 33 flights taking 1,400 veterans, the waiting list was exhausted, and the idea was conceived to bring the memorial home to Michigan.
• The memorial will serve as a place to gather, remember and inspire; designed to engage the community and educate future generations on the heroic efforts of the Greatest Generation.
• In 2017, Royal Oak unanimously granted the memorial project a ¾-acre section within the city’s Memorial Park, located at the northeast corner of 13 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue.
• April 7, 2022, Groundbreaking for Phase I, which will include over 1,200 donated Walk of Honor brick pavers, installation of a full-sized statue depicting a soldier reading a letter from home, installation of flagpoles with flags representing each branch of the military and our state flag, plus pouring of footings for a Wall of Stars and future statue scenes.
• The near-term goal is to raise $300,000 for Phase II to construct the Memorial’s 10-feet high by 50-feet wide Wall of Stars. It will consist of 1,400 stars, each honoring approximately 11 of the 15,458 Michigan lives lost during WWII. Each star is available for a contribution.
• The total projected budget is $3 million to complete the full memorial. In addition to Phase I and II elements highlighted above, the memorial will ultimately include:
— Three life-sized bronze statue scenes representing Land, Air and Sea, telling the Michigan story from both home front and war front perspectives.
— A colonnade of 13 pillars, six of which will represent Michigan’s contribution to the war effort through service, sacrifice, industry, labor, commitment and change.
— A large, walkable, interactive map of Michigan embedded into the memorial grounds highlighting communities integral in securing victory through industry, government and commercial endeavors.
— A spacious amphitheater for events.
Donate by credit card or volunteer at: michiganww2memorial.org. Make checks payable to The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial and mail to: The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial, P.O. Box 8237, Royal Oak, MI 48068. Call toll-free (888) 229-6126.