Pittsburgh's World War II memorial links past, present

Visitors to the new World War II monument on Pittsburgh's North Shore will be able to see the region's past and present simultaneously, according to its architect, Todd Johnson.

Dozens of historical photographs showing local people and places will be engraved on the glass walls of the Southwestern Pennsylvania World War II Memorial. At the same time, the modern city, including the fountain at Point State Park and skyscrapers in the Golden Triangle, will be visible through the walls, Mr. Johnson said.

That juxtaposition was deliberate.

"The concept all along was to tell a story," artist Larry Kirkland said. "We want to tell the story of that generation and what was going on in Pittsburgh and in the world."

"Then you will be able to see past those images to the city that was born from the science and industries of that era," Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Kirkland and Mr. Johnson's firm, Denver-based Design Workshop, teamed up more than a decade ago to win the design contract for the memorial.

The $4 million project will be dedicated at 10 a.m. Dec. 6 in a free, public event.

The dedication cannot come soon enough for Howard W. Pfeifer, 90, of Franklin Park. Mr. Pfeifer, a retired engineer, was in the Merchant Marine during World War II and is a member of the memorial fund committee that has raised money for the project. "I said two years ago that I am not leaving until we get this done," Mr. Pfeifer joked.

The $4 million collected for the project includes $1.75 million from the state's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, said Brittany Mahoney, executive director of the memorial fund. That total includes money for a $315,000 endowment to cover maintenance for the memorial.

The tribute to veterans is on North Shore Drive between Heinz Field and the Del Monte Center. The basic design has glass panels and granite tablets mounted between tall stainless steel spires. Plans call for the monument to be illuminated at night.

The glass panels will contain photographs showing life on the battlefield and at home during the war. One side of the memorial is dedicated to the war in Europe and the other side to the Pacific theater.

"Some are iconic images of the war, but most represent what the Pittsburgh region looked like at the period," Mr. Kirkland said.

The pictures show women in military service and working in defense plants, black soldiers marching through Downtown, children gathering material for a scrap drive, and an immigrant couple surrounded by their five sons, all in uniform.

The 24 granite panels will provide quotations, brief essays and stories dealing with the conflict. Those quoted on the panels include historian David McCullough, a Pittsburgh native, and Frank E. Bolden, a war correspondent and longtime reporter for the Pittsburgh Courier.

John Vento, an Army veteran, is vice president of the memorial fund board. Now age 90, he was part of an anti-aircraft unit preparing for the invasion of Japan when the Pacific war formally ended on Sept. 2, 1945.

He predicted that visitors to the memorial will find it inspiring and educational.

"When they see all this, they'll understand Pittsburgh history," he said.

The memorial site will remain fenced off until Dec. 6 as final work, including landscaping, is completed.

Details: www.swpawwii.org.

Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 724-772-0184.

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