By Mary Reczek, World War II Memorial Committee
On Aug. 15, 1945 church bells and sirens all over America rang joyously to announce the end of our conflict with Japan–VJ Day. This year, in West Rutland, church bells will again ring to commemorate the 70th anniversary of V-J Day and to mark the dedication of a memorial to honor the men and women of West Rutland who served in the military during WWII.
Two years ago, the West Rutland Historical Society invited the eight living local veterans of WWII to speak at its monthly meeting. Five of the veterans were able to attend. After the vets spoke, audience members joined the discussion and recalled some of their memories of the war. One thing most people remembered was a Wall of Honor which was erected by the local Rotarians in front of the high school in 1943. As men and women entered the military, their names were added to this wooden structure. By the end of WWII, the wall held the names of 472 locals.
What happened to the wall? Sometime in the 1970s, it was taken down for safety reasons—a victim of weather and time. So, before the meeting ended, it was decided that we should plan a new, permanent wall in tribute to our WWII veterans.
Members of the community came forward to form a committee and begin work on two important tasks: first, to design a memorial that was reminiscent of the original, using materials that were permanent and free of wear and maintenance concerns. The second was to identify all of the local men and women who served in World War II during the years of conflict.
To understand the challenge of identifying our WWII veterans, one needs to keep in mind both the ethnic nature and the size of the town. West Rutland had a diverse population–over the previous century, immigrants from Ireland, Sweden, Canada, Poland and Italy had settled around the marble quarries in West Rutland. With so many languages, spellings the names correctly was a challenge. Most immigrants had many variations of first name, last name and even nicknames.
Additionally, West Rutland never had a large population. Throughout the early 1900s, U.S. Census figures show an average population of less than 3,000. The fact that 472 names were on the original wall seemed pretty astounding. It was important to verify all of these names and to apply the same consistent criteria to other names which had never appeared on the original wall.
After a year of research, the committee was able to verify that 609 men and women who were either born in West Rutland or lived in town before their military service had joined the armed forces between the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the signing of the peace treaty with Japan on Sept. 2, 1945. Many local and government sources were used to verify these names, including the Vermont Roster of World War II veterans, the National Archives, U.S. service records, American Legion rosters, U.S. Census Bureau, church baptismal records and town reports, as well as the Rutland Herald’s stories during the war years. We spoke with descendants of the veterans and met many wonderful people who shared stories about their family heroes.
Now, after two years of preparation, the World War II Veterans’ Memorial Committee, made up of 16 residents and descendants of veterans, is ready to unveil and dedicate the new memorial. The memorial will be on the lawn of the Town Hall. The new monument will closely resemble the original in design—three stones of black granite will stand side by side, with the names of the veterans etched on the two outside stones. Those who died in action/died in service will be on the middle stone. An eagle will be set atop the center stone. Benches will be placed in front of each stone. Landscaping will complete the small park area and create a welcoming space for visitors and families.
The World War II Memorial committee and the town of West Rutland take pride in this tribute to our military heroes. All are welcome to join in for the celebration on the Town Hall green on Saturday, Aug. 15 at 10 a.m.