World War I ended when hostilities officially ceased on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The United States eventually made the 11th of November a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and known as “Armistice Day.”
Armistice Day became primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I. However, after World War II and the Korean conflict, Congress was urged by veterans organizations to re-name it “Veterans Day,” a day to honor American veterans of all wars. So it remains to this day. (Some people confuse Veterans Day with Memorial Day, which honors those who have died in service to our country.)
I suggest we honor veterans by spending a few moments at one or both of the veterans’ memorials in San Jose’s Guadalupe River Park. They are both very accessible and offer different memorial experiences for the visitor. Taking a contemplative stroll through either of these memorials will give you an opportunity for introspection and personal reflection about military service.
The Veterans Memorial of San Jose-Santa Clara Valley is designed to honor all veterans, just like the Veterans Day holiday. Located adjacent to the Center for Performing Arts on Park Avenue, this unique memorial is designed to be something of a sanctuary. There are 76 unmarked white flags on stainless steel poles integrated with large glass panes that have sepia tone photographs and text of actual letters from servicemen on duty sent to friends and families.
The memorial is at once warm and intimate and yet stately and calm. The memorial was the product of a design competition that began in 1994 and was managed by San Jose’s Public Art program through its opening in November of 1997. To many people’s disappointment, vandals attacked this memorial, destroying and defacing panels. It was restored last year. Thankfully, technology had advanced to a point where the memorial is safer going forward. It is a unique celebration and commemoration of the human spirit and should be seen by every citizen.
By contrast, the Vietnam War Memorial (a.k.a. Sons of San Jose )—located on Santa Clara Street adjacent to Arena Green—specifically honors Vietnam War soldiers from San Jose who died. It is similar to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C., which is a black slate wall with the names of the fallen service members etched in white. We owe a debt of gratitude to Dennis Fernandez for his leadership in raising the funds and his perseverance in seeing it through to its opening in March.
As a Vietnam era veteran, I find this memorial to be somber and sad in some ways. It evokes memories of a troubled time and lost lives, but it is so respectful to remember these people who made the ultimate sacrifice. And this is the purpose of such memorials—to have us remember and honor what others did for us.
James P. Reber is the executive director of San Jose Parks Foundation, a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at [email protected] or 408.893.PARK