WWII Vets Unveil Their Memorial
by Patricia Goodin
On Sept. 2, 1945, the Japanese surrendered to the United States, offically ending World War II. More than 16 million Americans served in the War, at a cost of more than 400,000 American lives, 156 of which were from Marin County. On Monday, May 28, 2001, nearly 56 years after the war ended, a memorial honoring "All who served" was finally erected on the Avenue of the Flags at the Marin Civic Center. In a moving and poignant ceremony the monument was unveiled and dedicated by World War II Memorial Committee members. In the early planning stages, the committee quickly realized there are not many companies capable of producing the type of monument they had in mind. After an exhaustive search, the memorial committee located the V. Fontana Company in Colma, after learning it was the only company on the West Coast capable of fabricating such a monument.
"When they learned about what the project was, Mark (Fontana) called us back and said, 'we're going to do this for you.'" said Erma Parsons, whose husband Denis is a WWII veteran and committee member. The 14-foot high memorial, weighing more than 9 tons, was cut from a single 10-ton block of granite from the Raymond granite quarry near Fresno. The design for the memorial was conceived by Elio Fontana, also a World War II veteran. His son, Mark, now manages the company. Phil Fioresi designed the layout and engraving and Pietro Masnada, who has been with the company for 48 years and was hired by Mark's grandfather, did the fabrication and milling work. Daryl Sowers crafted all the fine detailing and finishing. The graceful and strong lines carved into the granite rise upward through the seals of the five branches of the armed forces of the facade. The monument is capped by a 50-inch bronze American eagle.
At the dedication Erma recalled Mark Fontana's remarks on his company's involvement with the monument,
"Mark said, 'It was the most significant job in the 80-year history of our company,'" Erma said.
For decades, veterans and their family members have lain wreaths at the World War I and Korean/Vietnam War Memorials at the site. The names of the 156 servicemen from Marin killed in World War II were engraved on two brass plaques that had hung on the World War I monument. After a number of years Erma Parsons asked the veterans and former classmates a simple question.
"When are you guys going to get a monument of your own?"
Whether it was Erma's pointed question, or a burning desire within themselves, or simply the realization of so many years passing so quickly, the Marin veterans were spurred to action. They formed a World War II Memorial committee a little more than two years ago and began their quest.
Overcoming hurdles along the way, they managed to see the project through to completion. They received donations from individuals and organizations within and outside Marin County. Many included letters and mentions of loved ones in whose name the donation was being sent.
Many stated their hopes for the memorial:
Please accept my check for $300 toward the World War II Memorial.
I was drafted out of San Rafael High School in 1943. I served in Europe with the 1st and 7th Armies and was involved in four major battles. My outfit, the 105 Evacuation Hospital, took care of many patients during the Battle of the Bulge.