14TH STREET — Santa Monicans gather at Woodlawn Cemetery, Mortuary and Mausoleum each Memorial Day to remember the lives of those who served and died for their country, but this year, city officials will unveil a new tribute to the fallen that will stand all year round.
Those that attend the 75th annual Memorial Day celebration on Monday will get a sneak peek at a commemorative wall that will hold the names of each Santa Monican who has died while in the service since the city was established in 1875.
While many details about the design and materials of the wall have not yet been determined, it will rest in front of the mausoleum, surrounded by landscaping and benches to create a serene space for people to pause and observe the names, which will be emblazoned on plaques affixed to the wall.
The day will also serve as the kick-off for a fundraiser to pay for the memorial, which officials believe will cost between $7,500 and $15,000, said Susan Cline, assistant director of the Public Works department.
City Hall has already gathered $500, although at least two other individuals have come forward with promises to donate.
When completed, what proponents call the “peace memorial” will join Santa Monica High School’s Greek Amphitheater and statues honoring the Civil War and all five branches of military service as Santa Monica’s tribute to the armed forces and the people in it.
City Councilmember Bob Holbrook proposed a new memorial after the 2012 Memorial Day event, at which he was the keynote speaker. As he walked among the graves at Woodlawn jotting down names off of gravestones to prepare for the speech, he realized that after his address was completed, the people he mentioned would fall back into relative anonymity.
“This is all about remembering them,” Holbrook said. “There is no intent but to remember them.”
Over the course of the intervening year, Holbrook presented this idea to Assistant City Manager Elaine Polachek, who assigned an intern from the Human Resources Department, Ginamarie Vollucci, the task of seeking out the names of the dead.
What seemed like a simple task turned into a complex hunt. Much of the government’s repository of veteran information was lost in a fire in the 1970s, leaving Vollucci no choice but to dig through old records, ancestry and genealogy websites and even the webpages of veterans’ groups.
She gathered 97 names, a list which city officials will now publicize so that those who know of additional dead can add their friends or family to the list.
The idea of the wall speaks to Jack Walter, a Santa Monica resident that has been very vocal in his support for the memorial.
Walter is a Vietnam-era veteran who served in the army in the late 1960s. When those who served in Vietnam returned from the war, they came home to a country that largely rejected them for their part in what many believed was an unjust and unnecessary war.
There were no parades, no joy expressed that so many of the United States’ young men had returned home safe and sound. There was no acknowledgement of those that did not.
Memorials help give closure to those who fought and a measure of respect that their fallen comrades have not been forgotten, Walter said.
“Having a memorial for people who sacrificed their lives because their country asked them to, I think, is fitting,” Walter said.
As it stands, the memorial will be all about the service men and women to whom it is dedicated. Donors will not have plaques or recognition beyond a letter thanking them for their contribution, Holbrook said.
Still, he believes it’s the kind of project that people will want to be part of.
“It’s one of those things that we’re doing that’s exciting, to do something that will have permanence and reflect on those that went out and did their duty as they saw it,” Holbrook said.