They're called 'Memorial' for a reason
Gov. Pete Ricketts pointed out this week the many connections Nebraska has with World War I, which the United States declared 100 years ago this past Sunday.
If only it truly was “the war to end all wars.”
Many of us remember attending athletic events in Lincoln’s Pershing Auditorium, closed in 2014, named after Nebraska’s Gen. John J. “Blackjack” Pershing, who helped defeat Germany while commanding the U.S. First Army.
World War I helped spur the creation of the American Red Cross in Nebraska that year, and Offutt Air Force Base was named after Omaha native Jarvis Offutt, an aviator killed in France.
And nothing compares to a big game in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium, dedicated to “all who served and fell in the Nation’s Wars,” including Roscoe “Dusty” Rhodes, captain-elect of the 1918 Nebraska football team, who was killed in action in France.
You’ll find many veterans of World War I and all other wars in local cemeteries, as well as victims of the flu epidemic it helped spawn in years immediately following the war.
Although it’s usually called the city auditorium, the Gazette has made a point of calling the structure on West Fifth Street “Memorial Auditorium,” since that’s its official name, and that’s what’s carved into the beam over the front entrance.
Construction of the building, no longer home to city offices, was no small feat, attempted as early as the 1890s but not accomplished until 1939 after a special election the previous year approving the issuance of $50,000 in municipal bonds and receipt of a Depression-era federal PWA grant of $42,370.
Built on land purchased for $1,000 with $960 donated by the Chris Hansen Post No. 203, American Legion, plus additional land purchased by the city, the building was dedicated to war veterans and the first event was an Armistice Day dance, Nov. 11, 1939, with formal dedication the next day.
The young people at that dance knew about the troubles in Europe — Germany had invaded Poland the month before — but they couldn’t have known the extent to which they would be involved in the few short years to come.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of war veterans who deserve to be honored in our communities, from World Wars I and II through Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflicts. And not all families who have lost loved ones have had complete closure because of their loss.
This Sunday, April 9, is recognized as POW/MIA Recognition Day, honoring those who spent years in the captivity of our nation’s enemies, and those who never returned from war, their fates still unknown.
The next time we hear the word “memorial” in describing one of these buildings or stadiums, let’s hope it reminds us of those who have given their freedom or even their lives in service to our nation.