World War II veterans help dedicate a lending library that marks the future site of the Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial at Memorial Park in Royal Oak.

World War II veterans help dedicate a lending library that marks the future site of the Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial at Memorial Park in Royal Oak.

Photo provided by Judy Maten


Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial makes headway

Victory Gala fundraiser set for Oct. 23

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published October 7, 2021

 A rendering shows what the Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial is projected to look like once complete.

A rendering shows what the Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial is projected to look like once complete.

Rendering provided by Judy Maten

 Detroit artist and sculptor Larry Halbert works on the full-size statue of “Joe,” a soldier in a foxhole reading a letter from home, that will be a part of the Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial at Memorial Park in Royal Oak.

Detroit artist and sculptor Larry Halbert works on the full-size statue of “Joe,” a soldier in a foxhole reading a letter from home, that will be a part of the Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial at Memorial Park in Royal Oak.

Photo provided by Judy Maten

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ROYAL OAK — Since the passage of state legislation allowing state tax filers to support the Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial Fund in 2018 and 2019, the nonprofit initiative has continued to make progress.

The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial is slated to be built in Memorial Park, located on the northeast corner of Woodward Avenue and 13 Mile Road, in Royal Oak. Volunteers working with Honor Flight Michigan conceived the idea for the memorial in 2011.

The proposed budget of the memorial is $3 million, and it will honor the 620,000 Michigan residents who served in the armed forces and at home during World War II, as well as the 15,458 service members who lost their lives, officials said.

Plans include statues dedicated to telling the story of the state’s contributions during the war, a Walk of Honor paved with inscribed bricks in memory of those who served, a colonnade of pillars, and educational opportunities for the public.

State Rep. Jim Ellison, D-Royal Oak, recently announced an allocation of $50,000 for the Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial project in the state’s budget.

“I was serving as mayor in 2011 when plans for the project were unveiled and in 2013 when the state of Michigan joined the city of Royal Oak to endorse the project,” Ellison said in a prepared statement. “It is now my honor to now bring home this $50,000 in funding to further the work to ensure that residents throughout the state and the nation continue to learn and honor the critical role that Michigan and its veterans served to secure our democracy for generations to follow.”

John Maten, president of the Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial board of directors, said the group plans to construct the memorial in phases so that the public could have a place to pay their respects soon and also because the country loses World War II veterans every day.

Maten added that, since 2018, the project has grown to include an Education Coalition, composed of teachers from across the state to develop educational materials, as well as a Veterans Advisory Council, composed of veterans to integrate their experience in the memorial and related activities.

The maquettes, or one-third scale models, for all nine of the statues have been completed, and the first full-size statue is complete. They are the work of Detroit sculptor and artist Larry Halbert.

The completed statue, informally called “Joe,” depicts a soldier sitting in his foxhole, poring over a letter from home. Other maquettes depict children filling bags with milkweed fiber, which Petoskey-based processors used in flotation devices; a Rosie the Riveter working on a B-24 bomber at the Ford Willow Run Assembly Plant; and a Tuskegee airman, who was trained at Selfridge Army Air Field, preparing for a mission.

Maten added that, to date, the memorial has approximately 1,200 paver bricks dedicated by various donors to the memorial.

“We’re now looking at how we can do an initial phase of the memorial to get the statue and paver bricks started as soon as possible,” he said. “In society today, this is important for us to remember.”

Maten likened the all-hands-on-deck mindset of Americans, specifically Michiganders with the state’s manufacturing capacities, during World War II to the more recent response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Detroit’s nickname as the Arsenal of Democracy stemmed from plants switching “overnight” to produce wartime items including tanks and planes during World War II, and a similar effort happened again with personal protective equipment and ventilators in the last year and a half, he said.

Judy Maten, John Maten’s wife, is also involved with the Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial.

A former chemical engineer, Judy credited the national effort during World War II with bolstering science, technology, engineering and math; bringing women into the workforce; and defeating one of the most serious threats in humanity’s history.

She said the hope for the memorial is to inspire future generations to be the next “greatest generation” by advancing technology, labor, civil rights, ingenuity and innovation.

“Hitler’s goal was to wipe out the Jewish race and anybody that stood with them,” Judy said. “We are (presenting the Victory Award to Guy Stern to honor him) beyond the incredible things he did in World War II. He dedicated his life to helping generations realize that this could happen again if we’re not watchful, and it’s happening all around us.”

The Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial will host its annual Victory Gala at the Detroit Marriott in Troy Oct. 23.

The event will feature Stern, 99, as guest speaker. Stern came to the U.S. as a German Jewish refugee in 1935 and later served with the U.S. Army’s Ritchie Boys, a German-speaking special military intelligence and counterintelligence group credited with obtaining the majority of intel on the Western front, according to the Michigan WWII Legacy Memorial.

A live auction will include items such as a golf vacation on Drummond Island, a ski package at Boyne Mountain Resort, an interior design package and a staycation in Detroit. Guests can also participate in a silent auction benefiting the memorial.

For more information about the Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial or the Victory Gala, call (888) 229-6126 or visit www.michiganww2memorial.org.

Staff Writer Brian Louwers contributed to this report.

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