Sunday, May2, 2004

Letters . . .

The Gravity of WWII Stars

Sunday, May 2, 2004; Page N04 To the Arts Editor:

"War and Remembrance" by Benjamin Forgey (Sunday Arts, April 25) clearly exhibits his fluency with the language of architecture in an astute analysis of the soon-to-be dedicated National World War II Memorial. There are, however, Americans who speak another language when talking about the much anticipated monument, a language whose vernacular is rooted in the numbers of U.S. servicemen who gave their lives and the hundreds of thousands of widows and orphans whose sacrifices are all too often overlooked.

There were approximately 183,000 American children who were left fatherless after WWII. American war orphans, a concept few people have considered.

Often we're asked how we can call ourselves "orphans" when we had mothers. In fact, many did not. They were young and grieving, and when the millions came home from the war, there was no one for them to meet at a train station. Many sought refuge behind a "wall of silence" and remained emotionally unavailable to their traumatized children. Most of us learned early not to make Mommy cry. We kept our questions about the "man in the picture" to ourselves.

Forgey wrote that the plaza lacks a true center of gravity. Perhaps, in his language, that's true. But in ours, the center of gravity is the Wall of Freedom, the 4,000 gold stars. Each star may represent 100 military deaths but to me one of them represents my 23-old father who went missing three months before I was born. Indeed, the pull is so great that more than 200 orphans of WWII and another 300 family members will be present at the dedication on May 29. We will be seated among the veterans, which is appropriate; we'll be there to represent men who did not survive to become veterans. They are not forgotten.

The memorial will be a place of celebration for some, a place of healing for others. It is a cairn of national proportion; an embrace at the center of emotional gravity for those of us who slipped behind the "wall of silence."

On Memorial Day evening, members of the American WWII Orphans Network will hold a candlelight service at the Wall of Freedom. We will move from the wall of silence to the wall of shining gold stars.


The writer is the daughter of 2nd Lt. George P. Gaffney Jr., and the President of the Board of Directors of the American World War II Orphans Network.

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