Alissa Scott/Recorder staff Frank Villa, member of the South Side Veterans Association, points to acquaintances of his who died during World War II. SSVA recently raised enough money to have the plaques polished and to complete some masonry work along the backside.
By ALISSA SCOTT
Recorder News Staff
A veteran's memorial on the South Side, meant to honor the memories of military personnel from three wars and serves as a reminder to younger generations, has been refurbished.
"We find that the younger generation has forgotten all about the veterans, especially from World War II," said Angelo Califano, president of the South Side Veterans Association. "We find that schools are not teaching much about World War II and they're also getting a wrong impression of the war."
Though Califano, a World War II veteran, said the memorial on Bridge Street doesn't teach youth about the wars it represents, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, it does "honor the men who served."
The memorial includes a series of plaques with the names of every South Side resident who served in one of the three wars. A more centralized plaque denotes the 13 men from World War II who were killed in action.
"For the record," Frank Villa, chairman of the association's restoration committee and a World War II veteran, wrote in a solicitation letter, "403 men from the South Side (5th Ward) went to war in World War II, 13 gave their lives. One-hundred-and-ninety-two men from the South Side (5th Ward) went to war in Korea and Vietnam, four gave their lives."
The memorial, which has stood the test of time having been erected in 1946, has deteriorated over the years, but has also been affected by vandals scratching the plaques' surfaces.
After soliciting funds from local individuals and businesses, SSVA was able to raise around $8,500 to polish the plaques and to complete masonry work on the backside of the monument that had been badly water damaged. Originally, the association -- who said it receives $900 from the city for the park's upkeep annually -- had set out to raise $24,000 to also repair the asphalt walkways where tree roots have begun to poke through, trim said trees and to address lime build up between the stones of the monument.
Villa said these are all goals for the next round of fundraising, adding there is an ever-looming time stamp on these restoration projects organized by a "dying breed."
"When we're gone, there won't be anyone left," Villa said. "That's why we want to get this fixed, see."
Villa said the organization has seen a large decrease in numbers, due to deaths or inability to participate, and it has affected their overall performance.
"We're down to about 65, 70 members," Villa said. "I'm probably the youngest one. I'm 86. Most of the original members are dead. Those who are still surviving, they can barely walk. We're having trouble just getting enough people together for our annual dinner."
Villa said, growing up on the South Side and being involved with the military, he knows all 13 of the men whose names are embossed on the central plaque at the monument. All members of the 5th Ward, or, as it was known during the time they were growing up, Port Jackson, the entirety of those recognized were in walking distance of each other.
Villa pointed around the neighborhood, reminiscing on the days when a coal factory, a gas station and a grocery shop surrounded the park he now stood in.
Villa said later on, the group incorporated Korean and Vietnam War veterans, because "it would have been a shame not to."
"These fellas are just as important as the other guys," Villa said.
Though, Califano indicated it is especially important to keep memories of World War II alive, because he said younger generations seem to have a misconception about what truly happened.
"They're getting some indication that the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a bad thing for us to do," Villa said. "They're not teaching that they saved millions of people who would have died if they attacked Japan as they did Germany. The war would have gone on for a long time, the Japanese would have fought hard to protect their homeland and many, many people who have died -- both military and civilians."
Those interested in donating to the restoration fund may mail a donation to the South Side Veterans Association at 9 Brown Street in Amsterdam.