Design controversy slows work on memorial for World War II veterans in Gloucester
By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff | January 12, 2005
In the city of Gloucester, which has never built a tribute to those who served in World War II, the idea seemed unlikely to provoke controversy: a memorial to the 4,200 veterans who had shipped out more than 60 years ago.
But in the design for the monument, an eagle with wings spread perched atop a granite globe, many Gloucester residents see an eerie resemblance to a symbol of the Nazi regime the veterans helped defeat. They say the proposed memorial looks like the pinnacle of a public hall for Berlin designed by the German architect Albert Speer as a tribute to the Third Reich.
The controversy has stalled work on the memorial, and veterans like George Belezos, who began working on the project 2 years ago and who had hoped to finish it by Memorial Day this year, now worry they may not live to see the monument built.
"We're dying," said Belezos, who was awarded a Purple Heart and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, but is now recovering from a broken neck and punctured lung he sustained in a car accident last month. "We're dying a thousand a day throughout the country. We're all in our 80s."
The mayor ordered a review of the proposal, although veterans say he recently told them he now supports the design. A state senator who raised money from the state for the memorial urged that the money not be spent until the city could agree on a design. Local donations for the memorial, $30,000 short of its goal, have waned.
The veterans argue that as their numbers dwindle each year, there is not enough time to start the project anew. Critics say the similarity to Speer's design for the Volkshalle, a massive assembly building that was never constructed, should have prompted the veterans to start from scratch.
"I think it's shameful," said Richard Bernstein, a Gloucester architect who has helped lead the opposition to the proposed memorial. "The design should have been withdrawn when it was brought to their attention."
The dispute has cast a pall over a project inspired when veteran Michael Linquata attended a ceremony in Belgium to commemorate the war. Linquata, who served as a combat medic, was captured by the Germans and spent three months in a POW camp.
Linquata was recovering from a heart attack and was not available to discuss the project. But other veterans expressed dismay at the suggestion that the memorial would honor Adolf Hitler.
"We know what the war was about," Belezos said. "We fought it. We were there."
About 15 percent of Gloucester's wartime population of about 24,000 served in World War II, said Roger Armstrong, a Gloucester gallery owner who designed the monument.
This week, the veterans' group hopes to unveil a revised design of the memorial, but the changes have already prompted protests. In the new design, Armstrong said, the eagle stands with its wings spread further apart, to look more like an American eagle.
"It's what I like to describe as a Marshall Plan eagle," he said, adding that he wanted the memorial to also evoke the years Americans spent helping to rebuild Europe after the war.
But even with the changes, Bernstein opposes the new design.
"You did nothing but startle the original eagle," he said. "The answer is not tweaking the design, but withdrawing it and soliciting local artists and competition."
Bernstein said the similarity between the proposed Gloucester memorial and the Speer design was inadvertent. He supports a tribute to World War II veterans, whose ranks include his father, but argues that the city should not adopt a memorial that he says would evoke Nazi domination.
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