As my fingers traced the names of personal acquaintances like Lyle Palmer and Curtis Ransdell, who never came home, I was overwhelmed by the sadness of it all.
There were hundreds of hand written notes, flowers and personal affects sitting on the ground under the names of the Vietnam Memorial. The Park Service sweeps the monument clean each night and it all starts over the next morning. Seeing battle hardened veterans leaning against the monument in tears touched me to the core.
Recently, I visited a private Veterans Memorial Museum in Branson Missouri. It was for me the most impressive private memorial I have ever seen.
A World War II veteran named Fred Hoppe Sr. from Schyler, Nebraska spent his life collecting artifacts and doing research on U. S. wars from World War I to the first Gulf War. His son, Fred Jr. has carried on the work since his father died. They borrowed the money and took the risk of building a magnificent museum to honor America’s war dead.
Fred Hoppe Jr., a sculpter, created the largest bronze war memorial in the world consisting of 50 life-size soldiers storming a beach. Each figure is modeled after an actual combat veteran; one from each state. Hoppe Sr. was the model for the lead soldier representing Nebraska. The sculpture was so big the museum building had to be built around it.
Thousands of weapons, uniforms and artifacts from U. S. wars from Worrld War I through the first Gulf War are magnificently displayed in five great halls.
The names of all the men and women who died in each conflict are listed in alphabetical order in each of the war rooms.
World War II is particularly impressive. The names of 406,000 Americans who died in that conflict are on the walls. It is difficult to comprehend a number like 406,000 until one sees such a display. Again, I was humbled to the core.
I found the names of my relatives and near relatives who perished in World War II, including Cannon Rasmussen (brother of my great aunt Dorothy Adams) who survived the Bataan Death March, only to die of starvation and disease in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Japan.
I found the name of Rex Barton (my mother’s brother) who died on a troop ship in the Pacific. I was glad the name of Ned Adams Jensen is not there. He went ashore at Normandy eight days after D-Day and was one of the lucky ones who came home after the war. How different things would have been in Monticello if Ned Jensen’s name had been one of those in the WWII room in Branson.
Admission fees barely pay the mortgage and the maintenance expenses of the Branson Memorial. Mr. Hoppe has applied to 26 federal agencies asking for assistance with the museum. Our government spends millions on the mating habits of the fruit fly, but honoring our veterans in Branson is not something they wish to support at this time.
The people staffing the museum work without pay because of their commitment to honoring America. Branson is one of the best known entertainment centers in America, where live shows, good food and fun are the focus of most of the millions of visitors. For me this museum was the most memorable and meaningful experience I had in my week there.
If the “cut and run” legislators in Washington spent an hour in the Branson Veterans Memorial, I believe they might have a different attitude about supporting our troops and making the tough decisions that lie ahead in the War on Terror.
How soon we forget. I am deeply grateful for the sacrifice of so many. In this new year, I have covenanted with myself that I am going to be a better American than ever before.
God bless America! God bless the hundred of thousands of brave men and women who died that we might live today in the greatest nation the world has ever known. firstname.lastname@example.org.