Every country honors its veterans with commemorative monuments and other reminders of service, and every community in America can reliably find space for some depiction of appreciation—a list of local war dead, sculptures emblematic of virtue or gratitude—on its public grounds. Western New York has a number of them, in addition to those in cemeteries, and many are remarkable in their simplicity, or their extravagance.
The "Mound in the Meadow," a raised section of earth near the fourth hole of Delaware Park’s golf course, is actually a mass grave. It features a simple boulder with a plaque noting the final resting place of 300 "unnamed soldiers of the War of 1812 who died of camp disease and were buried here."
More grandiose is the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at Lafayette Square in downtown Buffalo, a Civil War memento which has survived all the buildings that once surrounded it. The eighty-foot tall pedestal features an oversize "nameless stone lady…emblematic of Buffalo" at the top, with four statues representing the military below. Abraham Lincoln, much of his cabinet, and part of the Gettysburg Address also appear on the work, which has remained essentially unchanged since it was dedicated in 1884.
You can go big or you can go small with equal esteem for veterans. Kenmore’s is a simple granite monument on the Village Green in front of the Art Moderne-style Municipal Building, a gathering place that once featured a machine gun from a captured German submarine. The slab lists the village’s World War II fallen on one side, with those of Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq-Afghanistan on the other. The Kenmore monument is typical of small but earnest acts of appreciation seen across the country.
The nearby Town of Tonawanda has displayed, since 1959, a Korean War-era fighter plane on a corner of Kenney Field, a recreational park. The plane arrived after Look magazine hinted that military surplus was available for display purposes to any community politely requesting some, which is why a road trip to small towns across the country yields old but respectfully preserved tanks, missiles, and planes at VFW halls, American Legion posts, or town halls. In 2009 the plane, restored by a local collision company, was joined by a veterans’ memorial highlighted by a seven-foot-tall granite V-shaped sculpture. Flags of the service branches and a walkway of commemorative bricks complete a picture of a community grateful for its residents’ military sacrifices.
At the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, more than a dozen monuments stand on a sidewalk adjacent to the ships on display, a deliberate call to honor not only veterans of particular wars but also Latino soldiers, those who returned with PTSD, those who defended Poland in World War II and, soon, the first monument in America honoring Black US soldiers. A different reminder of who offered their lives is on display, every several feet, in the Monuments Garden.
Communities in Western New York show their gratitude to veterans in myriad ways, large and small.
Ed Adamczyk is a historian and contributing writer for the Niagara Gazette and Forever Young.