Hundreds gather to celebrate and support plans for a World War II memorial in Bakersfield | News

More than 200 military veterans, organizers, advocates, volunteers and supporters came together Friday to cheer plans for a World War II Veterans Memorial slated to be built in Bakersfield later this year.

The “unveiling ceremony” held outdoors at Brookdale Senior Living in southwest Bakersfield was not about unveiling the actual memorial — scheduled to be installed by Veterans Day in Jastro Park — it was about showing the public the final design of the black granite and bronze monument.

And it was about asking for financial support and reminding the community that much more funding remains to be raised before the memorial can become a reality.

At an estimated cost of a half-million dollars, the planned memorial will feature six 9-foot-tall slabs of black granite imported from Asia, representing the six branches of the American armed forces during World War II.

Placed in a semicircle, each piece will be engraved on the front with the names of the 684 Kern County residents who lost their lives in military actions during the war. Engraved on the opposite side will be the names of Kern County World War II veterans who served and returned home.

“I am the representative of World War II veterans on the (memorial) committee,” U.S. Navy veteran Walter Grainger told the gathering Friday.

The long hours and the details involved in designing the project has been a humbling responsibility, said the World War II veteran who, as a young man, served more than a year and a half aboard the USS Crenshaw, an attack transport ship in the Pacific.

The memorial committee’s aim, Grainger said, is to “honor those who had given the last full measure, memorialize them in some manner, and then we would also honor those who served and came home.”

The idea for the memorial’s bronze centerpiece, a statue of a grieving woman and child on the home front who had just received word that their loved one had been killed in action, came from Grainger, a retired North High School educator.

Friday’s ceremony had everything one would expect at such an event, starting with a prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, the national anthem, a color guard from Arvin High School’s Junior ROTC, elected officials, guest veterans, committee members and more.

“I’m totally humbled to feel the weight of trying to be the representative of all the World War II veterans that are here in Kern County,” Grainger said, “and (offer) some ideas and suggestions to make this one of the nicest and most meaningful World War II memorials.”

State Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, the afternoon’s keynote speaker, said the memorial needs to be as special as the people it honors.

“Men between the ages of 18 and 45 left their homes into the armed services,” she said. “Some were fighting Japanese imperialism in the island jungles in the South Pacific, and the others were sent off to face down fascism in an already devastated war-torn Europe.

“This generation … showed us what they were made of,” she said. “They showed their character through their actions.”

Although the unveiling of the memorial’s final design was new to some Friday, earlier this month, The Californian published a rendering of the design when it broke the news that organizers had landed nationally known sculptor Benjamin Victor to create the project’s bronze centerpiece.

The news that Victor, a native of Taft who grew up in Bakersfield, had joined the effort, has had the community buzzing, organizers said.

But the fundraising deadline is looming. The memorial must be finished by Nov. 11, and according to memorial committee President Ed Gaede, more than two-thirds of the funding target is still outstanding.

“We still need another $350,000 to hit our $500,000 goal to build this memorial as it is being presented,” he said. “We are in desperate need of private, corporate and in- kind donations.”

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.