It was raining on the last Sunday of April 1950 when dozens of Wood County residents gathered to dedicate the big, granite memorial to the county men who died in the two World Wars.
The Gettysburg Address, itself four score and seven years old that year, was read by a Boy Scout. And the central message of that, perhaps the greatest speech in American history before or since, was the central message of the speakers that day: These men have not died in vain.
Rev. Harry Griffiths, a former Army chaplain, addressed the crowd. He was quoted in the next day’s Sentinel-Tribune, “They had succeeded in giving to the people who survived the war the chance to make something of the peace. Let this monument then serve as a constant reminder to the people of Wood County that the lost were lost in a not-meaningless struggle.”
That message resounded in the hearts of the women who had paid for the monument. Wood County’s chapter of the Gold Star Mothers — women who had lost their sons in the two global conflicts — paid for the memorial. Judge E.K. Solether accepted on behalf of the commissioners, and the grateful people of Wood County.
On the bronze plates upon that marble slab were the names of 64 World War I dead, and 185 in World War II. Over the years, we’ve added a few more names. And over those years, our memorial area on the Wood County Courthouse grounds has grown a little worse for the wear.
Last week, when Master Chief Edward Byers’ name was added to the county’s Medal of Honor memorial, the Wood County Commissioners kicked off a campaign to raise $300,000 to renovate, expand and improve the veterans’ pavilion at the Courthouse.
Raising that much money in time to have this monument area ready for Wood County’s bicentennial next summer won’t be easy. But we don’t have to make it hard. Imagine next fall if history students in our school districts organized fundraisers, competing against each other to see which district could do the most for our fallen. This Grand Rapids kid sure would love to see Otsego beat Bowling Green in something that really, really mattered. The potential to build this thing is in our hands.
Much of this sweeping plan is stuff that you’ll never see — proper foundations and supports to keep the monuments stable, utility service to the area to light the monuments, and the flags. More of it is the stuff you will see: Fencing and landscaping that will truly set this aside as a place of reflection and remembrance. The most important bits, though, might be the smallest: The names.
The World Wars memorial will be completely overhauled, the names re-engraved on a large slab of granite. And you can learn more about the World War II men memorialized there in companion database, now held in the local history department of the Wood County District Public Library, which includes basic biographical information about them.
In April 1950, our county made a promise to the Gold Star Mothers that we weren’t going to forget the sacrifice of their sons. Now it’s our turn to make sure that promise remains fulfilled. Find creative ways for your work or school to raise a little money for the effort. Get a coin drive going in your house. Make it fun.
Donations can be directed to the B.G. Community Foundation, P.O. Box 1175, Bowling Green, OH 43402, ℅ Memorial for Wood County Veterans.