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World War II memorial delayed but impressive

ST. PAUL - The state will soon unveil a large symbol of thanks to a generation of Minnesota military veterans known for their humility.

More than six decades after 6,000 Minnesotans died in World War II combat, a new Capitol Mall memorial honoring those soldiers and living veterans is being readied for a formal public dedication.

Project supporters said the timing of the memorial's completion reflects World War II veterans' desire to largely avoid public recognition and a realization many of those veterans are now dying by the thousands.

"Everybody came home, went to work and they didn't think much about it," said Don Schroedl, a World War II veteran from Minneapolis who helped to oversee the project. "Nobody was really looking for rewards."

Dominating the southwest edge of the mall, the oval-shaped memorial is surrounded by American elm trees and rose gardens and anchored by a large stone map of Minnesota counties.

Visitors' eyes likely will be drawn to a downward slope of Iron Range granite at one end of the state map and a landscaped incline at the other end. The formation was designed to symbolize the Allied Forces' ascent from dark depths of combat to military victory.

An estimated 326,000 Minnesotans served in the U.S. military during World War II, according to the state Veterans Affairs Department.

Their experiences, and those of family and friends back home during the war, are captured on the memorial's 10 almost-translucent glass panels atop granite blocks.

The panels, each 8 feet tall and visible from the Capitol, feature etched narratives testifying to soldiers' sacrifices, Minnesota's war-time contributions and the story behind the first U.S. shots fired in World War II. The USS Ward gun that fired that shot is on display near the memorial.

"They gave quite a good share of their life," Schroedl said of veterans.

The stone map, glass panels and landscaping are punctuated by an expansive walkway of plain and colored concrete. The memorial is located on the north side of the Veterans Service Building.

The project is impressive but decades delayed, said John Cox, commander of the Minnesota American Legion. It is being completed as the country loses more than 1,000 World War II veterans each day, he said.

"It's an absolute shame that these people weren't honored 20 years ago," Cox said. "We've waited this long to honor our World War II veterans."

Two of those veterans - state Rep. Bernie Lieder of Crookston and former Rep. Irv Anderson of International Falls - authored legislation in 2000 authorizing construction of the nearly $1.4 million project.

While soldiers from other wars have been memorialized on the Capitol grounds, World War II veterans never got that acknowledgment, Lieder said. There is a growing need to inform younger generations about those Minnesotans' sacrifices, he said.

"They come away realizing that some people did fight and die to preserve the liberty and things that we have," Lieder said of memorial visitors.

Military service organizations have donated funds toward the project and a group of veterans has helped guide the project.

"Minnesota has really pulled together to make this happen for our World War II veterans," said Pat Turgeon of the Veterans Affairs Department.

The memorial will be dedicated June 9, three days after the 63rd anniversary of D-Day. Veterans wanted the memorial's dedication to coincide with a significant World War II anniversary.

"It's all put together now and it's just beautiful," Cox said.