BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Dec. 10, it finally all comes together – the Kern County World War II Memorial. The sculpture at its center will tug at heartstrings in a way you might not expect.
There are at least 55 World War II Memorials in the United States, and it seems a safe bet that the vast majority, if they depict individuals, show American fighting men in battle gear.
In that respect the Kern County World War II Memorial, to be unveiled Dec. 10, is different.
The new memorial in Bakersfield’s Jastro Park commemorates not just the challenges, traumas and triumphs of the battlefield, but the sacrifice, the courage and the heartache of the Home Front as well.
The memorial is a bereaved survivor – a wife or a mother – receiving what 400,000 American families, and 690 Kern County families, received from the War Department between December 1941 and September 1945: A letter with the news they prayed would never come.
“You can literally see her tears,” said Ed Gaede, Jr., Vietnam veteran and WWII Memorial Committee president.
The committee raised funds for the half-million-dollar memorial.
“This gives us a chance to show that there was also sacrifice and suffering on the Home Front as well,” Gaede said.
What makes this statue different — this bronze sculpture designed and cast by world class sculptor and Bakersfield native Benjamin Victor – is what it holds in its heart. Literally in its heart: Sand from the honor-soaked Normandy battlefields of Utah Beach and Omaha Beach.
“When you think of all the young men that died in World War II in combat and you think of what the sculpture represents, with her holding that letter, from the government saying that, ‘We regret to inform you … that your husband is not gonna return,’” Victor said. “I want everyone to think of that and know that this sand from the actual battlefield is in this capsule forever inside of her heart.”
Gaede has nicknamed the woman in the sculpture Faith.
“Literally Faith will embody or have within her DNA, if you will, from our veterans that lost blood on those beaches on D-Day,” Gaede said.
The ceremony, set for 10 a.m. Dec. 10, is the culmination of years of work by the committee, including Honorary Chairman and World War II veteran Walter Grainger, veterans’ advocate Mark Sandall and Taft Mayor Dave Noerr, a friend of Ben Victor who provided the sand from those D-Day beaches and whose company’s crane will set the final pieces of the memorial in place. Memorial committee vice-president Wendy Ward has a special reason for wanting to participate.
“I wanted to honor my grandfather, Staff Sgt. Clayton Rodgers, who was a Darby’s Ranger,” Ward said.
Ward’s grandfather fought in Italy, Africa and France, and then helped liberate the Philippines.
“If I even hold a candle in honoring him I will have succeeded,” Ward said.
Organizers said they expect around 1,000 people at Jastro Park for the Dec. 10 unveiling of the memorial, which will include those 690 names, as well as the names of the Kern County veterans they’ve been able to identify who returned home – currently 836 and counting of the estimated 10,000.
The city will close westbound Truxtun Avenue, arrange for shuttle buses from two locations each about a mile away and bring in bleachers to accommodate the crowd. Afterward people are invited to step up onto the memorial itself, burnish the names of familiar veterans engraved in the memorial’s granite and shed a tear alongside the World War II widow who wears the uniform of that other branch of the U.S. war effort – the ordinary house dress of the prayerful Home Front.