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Restoring a national icon, memorial for fallen Marines

By Sgt. Jimmy D. Shea | | December 22, 2010

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The Marine Corps War Memorial Foundation is planning the restoration and preservation of the Corps’ beloved Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va.

The memorial, officially dedicated Nov. 10, 1954, honors Marines who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. While the statue depicts one of the most iconic moments of World War II, the monument is dedicated to all Marines who have died in battle since the Marine Corps’ inception in 1775.

James Donovan, the Marine Corps War Memorial Foundation’s executive director, began the initiative to restore and preserve the memorial when he found the flag at the memorial tattered and frayed, among other discrepancies, during a visit in 2007.

Donovan wrote a letter to the National Park Service about the unserviceable flag and insisted it be changed.

The sponsorship program, Iwo Flags, was created to ensure a monthly rotation of new flags, the foundation’s first act, preventing any long term wear and tear.

Donovan said the memorial holds a special place in his heart, as a former Marine. Donovan served with the Marine Corps’ Silent Drill Platoon from 1964 to 1968 where many of the platoon’s ceremonies were held in front of the memorial.

“I was 17 years old,” said Donovan. “It was exciting coming around the memorial with six platoons of Marines, the Silent Drill Platoon, the “President’s Own,” and the Drum and Bugle Corps. It was thrilling.”

Although the flag rotation was an important fix, there were still many other problems Donovan found, which led him to change the name of Iwo Flags to the Marine Corps War Memorial Foundation, and its mission to include the restoration and preservation of the memorial and memorial grounds.

“The bronze statue had not been cleansed since 1984 and the polished granite panels had loosened and flipped,” said Donovan. “The monument base had water penetration and there were cracks in the substructure. Two to three inch stalactites hang from within the base of the memorial and depressions in the parade deck cause standing water.”

Many steps are planned to include cleaning, filling cracks and gaps, and leveling ground to prevent the puddles of water.

Donovan’s goal is to bring the monument back to its original state.

“The bronze should not be brown,” said Donovan. “This bronze is supposed to be a Marine Corps green.”

Donovan plans for a museum grade cleansing, sealing and annual inspections of the bronze.

Damages to the memorial are not the only issue Donovan plans to address.

The portable toilets need to be replaced with a trailer containing a heated restroom as a temporary fix and a reception center with a bathroom as a permanent fix, said Donovan.

“Most people visit this monument and think it’s the Iwo Jima Memorial,” said Donovan. “We will have docents at the site to educate people on what the Marine Corps War Memorial is and the significance of it.”

In order to start planning some of these projects, Donovan created a memorandum of intent with the NPS and took steps to establish the foundation as Park Friends Group.

Friends groups are created to assist parks in supporting needed programs and projects through fundraising, membership programs, and awareness building, according to NPS.gov.

Donovan hopes to have the friends group agreement approved by February 2011.

Along with the Marine Corps War Memorial Foundation and the NPS, the Marines of Henderson Hall also have a role in maintaining the memorial.

“Since 1957, Henderson Hall has been assigned the responsibility to care for the Marine Corps War Memorial by order of the commandant (of the Marine Corps),” said Col. Roarke L. Anderson, commanding officer of Headquarters and Service Battalion, Headquarters Marine Corps.

Marines stationed at Henderson Hall are responsible for providing a flag detail during the monthly flag rotation.

“The memorial is the icon of the Marine Corps and represents the spirit of our Corps,” said Anderson. “At the visual terminus of the National Mall, the Marine Corps War Memorial stands watch over our nation’s capitol as our Corps stands watch over the nation.”

While there is time before any planned action can begin, Donovan and the Marine Corps War Memorial Foundation have done what they can to honor the memorial.

During a frigid morning, Donovan placed four Christmas wreaths around the memorial as part of the 1st Marine Corps War Memorial Christmas wreath laying ceremony Dec. 13.

“It’s our way of honoring the Marine dead of all wars and the comrades of other services who fell beside them,” Donovan said.

Each year 30,000 wreaths are placed on the graves at the Arlington National Cemetery for the holiday season.

“I noticed that wreaths were laid at the cemetery but not at the memorial,” Donovan said.

He went to local Christmas tree farms around his hometown of Waynesboro, Va., for help.

Tom Bartley, owner of Long Meadow Tree Farms in Fisherville, Va., said he was honored that he was asked and told Donovan he’d love to donate.

Although never serving in the military, Bartley has five brothers who served in World War II and placed five pinecones on each wreath to honor them.

Bartley created the wreaths with some personal pride, placing five pinecones on each wreath representing his five brothers who served in World War II.

“Things like this help us remember the price paid for us to have the freedom we have today,” said Bartley.

While Donovan’s efforts focus solely on the Marine Corps War Memorial, he does not forget the reason behind it all.

“The Marines who have died and are dying right now must be remembered and honored,” said Donovan. “This is the foundation’s way of doing it.”


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