Sunday, May 19, 2013

Memorial Day Monuments

For many, Memorial Day signals the beginning of summer, the kickoff of white shoe season, the Indy 500, Oregon winery open-house weekend, and yet another federal three-day holiday. However, it is important to reflect on the history and significance of this day that honors the men and women in the military services who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Soldier's Monument, Lone Fir Cemetery
Originally known as Decoration Day, the holiday’s beginnings are a little fuzzy depending on a Yankee or Confederate perspective. At the end of the Civil War, in May of 1868, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, General John Logan, officially proclaimed May 30 a day of commemoration, and flowers were placed on the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Southern states refused to follow the May 30 tradition and had their own Confederate Memorial Days. By the end of World War I, the observance was expanded to include fallen soldiers of all wars and in 1971, it became officially known as Memorial Day and observed on the last Monday in the month of May.
The Portland area features a number of war and veteran memorials, many of them tucked out of the way, others in public areas but largely ignored. The oldest monument honoring the war dead is in Lone Fir Cemetery on 26th SE, between Stark and Morrison. The Soldier’s Monument, near the center of the cemetery, was dedicated in 1903 to the veterans of the Civil War, Mexican, Spanish, and Indian Wars and is typical of that era, a bronze soldier with flag standing on top a stone pediment. The cemetery, dating back to 1846, is final home to over 200 Civil War veterans.

Lownsdale Square, Portland
Another pedestal-soldier style monument is located in downtown Portland in Lownsdale Square at the intersection of SW 4th and Main. Unveiled in 1906, Soldiers Monument is dedicated to Oregonians killed in the Spanish American War. The tall, granite obelisk is topped by a bronze replica of an infantryman of the Second Oregon U.S. Volunteer Infantry. At the base of the statue are two Howitzers used at Fort Sumter at the start of the Civil War.  One points north; the other south.

Across the Willamette River, in the Rose Quarter, stands the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. This indoor arena with its unusual glass design was built in 1960 and dedicated in 1961 to the veterans of World Wars I and II. Two black, polished granite slabs inscribed with the names of the fallen sit at a lower level on either side of the main entrance.

Korean War Memorial, Wilsonville
Many veterans of these two wars are interred in the Willamette National Cemetery located east of I-205 (one of many Blue Star Memorial Highways in Oregon) on the flanks of Mt. Scott. The largest military cemetery east of the Mississippi, it covers over 300 acres and the beautiful, hillside setting provides panoramic views of Portland. Several Medal of Honor recipients as well as former Senator and Governor Mark Hatfield are buried here along with nearly 150,000 veterans and their family members. Korean War veterans are honored with a large granite monument listing the names of the 283 Oregonians lost in that conflict. South of Portland, in the city of Wilsonville is another memorial honoring Korean War vets. Located in the Town Center Park, the 94-foot long pink granite wall also lists those servicemen killed.

Vietnam Memorial, Washington Park
Probably the most striking of all Portland’s war memorials is the Vietnam Veterans of Oregon Memorial in Washington Park, between Hoyt Arboretum and the World Forestry Center. Set in a verdant bowl surrounded by tall trees, the monument was dedicated in 1987 to the more than 700 men and women who died or remain missing in action in that conflict. A spiral path follows the contour of the bowl and is lined with several curved granite walls representing the years between 1959 and 1976. The names of those lost are engraved on the stone along with information about the history of the war during that time period and news from the home front here in Oregon. The “news” runs the gamut from the notable to the nonsensical and provides a provocative contrast to the war and the lost lives.

Vietnam Memorial, Washington Park
While flipping your burgers and grilling your hot dogs this Memorial Day, take just a moment to remember that freedom is never free; or, better yet, take a bouquet of flowers to one of these monuments


  1. I am looking to get a nice granite cemetery monument for my mother. I have seen different colors of granite and the one I am leaning towards is a dark, almost black granite. I really like the way the font looks with the glossy finish of the granite face.