A Day to Honor the Living and Mourn the Lost
By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 30, 2004; Page A01
From Huntingdon Valley, Pa., William E. Snow came with his wheelchair and his memories of Pearl Harbor. Herman Walton, once an Army truck mechanic near the front line in Germany, flew north from Columbus, Ga.
Marjory Doezel, who helped save the wounded in Europe, arrived in full dress uniform from Upstate New York. And Gene Mead, another former Navy man, brought his electric scooter all the way from a Chicago suburb.
On a Mall awash in patriotism yesterday, they again shared, perhaps for the very last time, a common mission and purpose.
They were there to be recognized, of course, for their during that awful time more than 60 years ago when the world seemed on the verge of collapse. Most long had wondered whether this tribute would ever take place.
They honored the Korean veterans, Mead said. "They honored Vietnam. They honored everyone else but World War II. So I thought we deserved something."
Yet something more than glory brought him and the thousands of others to Washington. Something akin to responsibility, a sense that they should be present to bear witness for those no longer able.
"The good master has been good to us to bring us all together," said the 82-year-old Walton, sitting alone on a chair in the middle of the great expanse of the Mall, a small American flag in one hand. He was missing one person in particular: R.B. Knotts, who grew up in the same Texas town and worked alongside him in the 767 Engineer Dump Truck Co. Knotts died in 1997.
"So many friends have gone on before," Walton said. "I'm sorry they didn't live long enough to see this."
Under a peerless blue sky, the dedication of the National World War II Memorial was also a reunion, with many men and women searching the multitudes for a familiar face. Or, at the least, a familiar insignia on a hat, vest, jacket.
Wesley D. Moore of Center Ossipee, N.H., wore the "Hells Bells" cap of his Army Air Forces fighter squadron for that very reason and parked himself prominently on a Mall bench.
"I came to look for guys I haven't seen in 65 years," he said, not since the 316th fought through the sandstorms of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, then in the skies over Italy, France and Germany. Moore knows that few of these buddies are left; since June, four of the 11 men at his squadron's last gathering have passed on.
Did he come to the Mall for them? "Absolutely," he declared. "We were like one big family. We lived together 24 hours a day. We played together, fought together, ate, worked together."
With the best of that era's big-band music entertaining block after block -- huge screens showed dancers swinging on stage as "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" and "In the Mood" wafted through the air -- the hours preceding the dedication ceremony took on a magical, vintage aura.
It was not just that strangers were spontaneously coming up to the veterans, offering a heartfelt thank-you, taking their pictures, asking for autographs. The guests of honor confessed to being stunned by the reception.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company