Veterans discover glaring mistakes on war memorial Factual errors frequently found on costly monuments

August 21, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF Sun researchers Jean Packard and Dee Lyon contributed to this article.

Talk about your monumental errors.

Veterans who have visited Maryland's large new World War II Memorial overlooking the Severn River and Naval Academy have found three glaring errors cast into its stainless steel plaques.

The date of the Japanese surrender has leapt from Sept. 2, 1945, to Sept. 6. A description of the island of Okinawa sounds more like its neighbor, Iwo Jima, "an eight square mile lump covered with deep volcanic ash" where a bloody battle raged for 36 days.

The attack on Pearl Harbor is described on the memorial as "a day which will live in infamy." President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his famous war message to Congress on Dec. 8, 1941, called it "a date which will live in infamy."

"Maybe it was a typo," said a distressed and apologetic John F. Burk Jr., 80, chairman of the World War II Memorial Commission. The retired brigadier general has promised an investigation of the $2.9 million project and possible corrections that would cost several thousand dollars more.

As Anne Arundel's memorial proves, things can go wrong when cities, states and countries set out to preserve for posterity the names and images of heroic men, women and events. The moral may be that even large, costly public projects need a good


Take the case of Baltimore's hometown hero, Babe Ruth. When a 9-foot, 800-pound statue of The Babe was unveiled at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1995, it showed the slugger leaning on a bat and clutching on his hip a right-handed fielder's glove.

Too bad he was a lefty. When artist Susan Leury began sculpting the statue, the Babe Ruth Museum sent over a vintage 1905 right-handed fielder's glove that she assumed was his. The museum examined Leury's progress carefully, step by step. But the statue was on its way to the foundry by the time well-known Ruth historians, authorities and sports writers discovered the mistake.

That bronzed mix-up is here to stay. Museum officials, who commissioned the statue, decided the mistake would add to the statue's mystique.

Inaccuracies frequently stand for years. The George Washington Monument in Mount Vernon, built from 1815 to 1829, listed the president's 1789 inauguration as March 4. Washington was inaugurated April 30. Congress met in New York for the first time under the new Constitution on March 4.

In 1985, longtime Mount Vernon resident Phil Easter glanced at the inscription on the left side of the western base. Easter, who described himself as "the amazing memory man," spotted the error immediately and informed officials. The inscription was corrected.

Besides sloppiness, mistakes occur in most cases because of misinformation or faulty records. For example, a memorial plaque honoring two nurses killed in World War II unveiled at the University of Canberra, Australia, noted that the women trained at the community hospital. They didn't.

In Honolulu, at the Arizona Memorial Visitors Center, a similar World War II memorial, dedicated "in remembrance of those who made the supreme sacrifice," listed a very much alive Pfc. George W. Baker. He was retired in Florida. That's not mentioning 50 other mistakes involving misspelled names, wrong ranks and incorrect duty stations etched in the painstakingly crafted porcelain.

"I think it happens more often than people think, whether it's statues, movies, books or the History Channel," said historian Scott Sheads at Fort McHenry National Monument, who found a wrong date on a marble monument of fort commander George Amistead on top of Federal Hill. "You would think if they're spending that kind of money and the technology that's available now, they'd get it right.

"I think what happens is that people who design these monuments don't show anybody else the design," Sheads said. "Haven't these people ever heard of rechecking their facts?"

That's what Burk and the World War II commission in Anne Arundel County are trying to find out. The commission spent four years writing a history of the conflict to fit on 20 plaques encircled by granite columns.

New York architect Secudino Fernandez, who won a design contest, used that information to construct the memorial. It was unveiled with much pomp and circumstance July 23.

A day later, in walked Jack King, 72, a former Navy gunner on a torpedo bomber, Avenger. He spotted the date mistake "right quick." After all, King was on an aircraft carrier anchored near the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay when Gen. Yoshijiro Umezo, the Japanese chief of staff, signed surrender papers under the watchful eye of Gen. Douglas MacArthur on Sept. 2.

"They're small things, I know," said King, who lives in Edgewater. wasn't angry. Just kind of shocked because they spent quite a bit of money on it. I'm not complaining about the memorial itself. That's beautiful.

"But younger people who might visit in the future don't realize what had gone on at the time," King said. "The dates should be true. The information should be right."

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