About three years ago, Congregation Beth Israel member Jack Heims was serving on the governor’s task force on veterans when then Gov. Ted Kulongoski told him that Oregon was one of just six states without a World War II memorial. Kulongoski got the legislature to support the idea and design, but he asked Heims to help recruit a board to bring the vision to life. Heims, who is named after his maternal uncle Jack Zugman (who was killed in World War II ), called his friend Lou Jaffe. A member of Havurah Shalom and a Vietnam veteran, Jaffe is the son of World War II veteran Harry Jaffe, whose photograph ap- pears on the history wall in the Mittleman Jewish Community Center. Jaffe, 65, agreed to serve as the president and treasurer of the Oregon World War II Memorial Foundation board, which includes Heims, 62. “I have been treasurer of many boards and I had recently retired,” says Jaffe. “I have become very passionate about this (memorial).”
Noting that Oregon has memorials to every other U.S. war – including Iraq and Afghanistan – Heims says he believes it is time to honor what has become known as our “Greatest Generation.” He says that when he was growing up, those who fought to protect our freedom in that war seldom shared their stories. This is one reason that, in addition to listing the names of the 3,757 Oregonians who died fighting that war, the Oregon memorial will feature a significant educational component. The monument’s 75’ x 75’ granite footprint will feature a world map showing the various theaters of war and sites of major battles. Visitors with smartphones or tablets may scan the QR codes embedded in the map to view online information about those battles. The QR codes also will link to personal stories of veter- ans and their families on the home front. “This is about honoring our fathers and mothers,” says Heims. “What kid today knows about ration cards?”
More than 150,000 Oregonians served in World War II, but with only about 32,000 still living, time is running short to collect their stories. Reflecting on the recent obituary of Gilbert Schnitzer, Heims says it’s hard to imagine such stories as Schnitzer “having lived 74 days in a foxhole during the Battle of the Bulge.” Jaffe said the memorial committee hopes to incorporate existing oral and written histories into the website’s database, but they have also created a place on the site for veterans and family members to record their stories. On the home page of the website, oregonwwiimemorial.com, click on “Your Story” to submit a written or audio recording about your experience during the war years. Jaffe says the stories will feature “heroism and courage and sacrifice by Oregonians … to give future generations a sense of our shared history.” “We believe shared sacrifice, honor and duty to country are not commonly shared values today,” says Jaffe. “We can bring these stories to life so it becomes an educational moment.” “This is not about glorifying war and military might,” adds Jaffe. “It is to raise awareness about what a nation and its citi- zens did when they felt it was their duty to be there. It’s about people willing to put themselves in harm’s way for a cause.” The website already features a moving video about the memorial project.
The memorial will be built in Wilson Park at the corner of Court and Cottage streets on the Capitol grounds in Salem. The memorial will feature a five-sided granite obelisk with storyboards on Oregon’s history in World War II. Oregonians killed in action will be honored on a solid black granite wall; two benches will offer places for quiet reflection. Jaffe said the board hopes to be able to dedicate the monu- ment on either Veterans Day (Nov. 11) or Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7) this year. To meet that goal, the board needs to raise $1.1 million. Tax-deductible donations can be made online at oregonwwiimemorial.com or checks can be mailed to Oregon World War II Memorial Foundation, 805 Skyline Crest Road, Portland, OR 97229.