The city of Santa Monica is hoping to ensure that the names of its citizens who have paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving during wars are not lost over time.
The City Council voted unanimously Feb. 12 to support establishing a so-called “peace memorial” at Woodlawn Cemetery, a commemoration wall identifying at least 97 Santa Monicans who have lost their lives in the several wars that occurred since the city was incorporated in 1886.
The memorial will add to other city locations for remembrance of fallen military members, including a row of monuments at Palisades Park paying tribute to victims and service members of each of the branches of U.S. Armed Forces, as well as a memorial known as Arlington West on the sand north of the Santa Monica Pier, which honors veterans killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
But the Woodlawn Cemetery peace memorial would specifically recognize those who have called Santa Monica home and were casualties during a wartime conflict. The cemetery is the burial site of many veterans who gave their lives in defense of the country, although not all were residents of Santa Monica.
The City Council has approved a site in the small lawn area at the entrance to Woodlawn’s mausoleum as the location for the commemorative wall.
“It would be an elegant wall, nothing super fancy, but it would be there forever,” Councilman Bob Holbrook suggested.
Holbrook initiated the idea for having some form of recognition established in the city for fallen Santa Monica service men and women after taking part in the Memorial Day service at Woodlawn last year. He recalled seeing graves of some World War II veterans and wondered about other Santa Monica residents who perished during wars but weren’t buried at Woodlawn.
“I looked at the graves, saw there were some who died in World War II and was thinking there were many more Santa Monicans who weren’t buried at Woodlawn Cemetery,” Holbrook remembered.
He discussed the issue with city staff and an intern working at City Hall took on the project of researching Santa Monica service members who were victims of wars dating to World War I, contacting each of the military branches and scouring various databases. After months of work, she compiled a list of 97 names, not all combat-related, from World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf.
Officials note that if more loved ones come forward and other names are identified, they could be added to the monument. Staff said the estimated cost of the proposed commemoration wall is between $7,500 and $15,000, depending on size and complexity.
Some of Holbrook’s council colleagues have praised the plan to place such a commemoration in the city.
“I think this is a great idea,” Councilman Tony Vazquez said. “I think whatever we can do to recognize our vets is great.”
Michael Lindley, a past president of the Veterans for Peace, which erects the Arlington West memorial each week, suggested that a good option for the peace memorial would be to add the names near the monuments that are already standing at Palisades Park.
“I think that would be the place to do it because it’s recognized and it’s been there a long time,” Lindley said.
Susan Cline, assistant director of city public works, said the mausoleum entrance facing Pico Boulevard was chosen as the preferred site because it’s easily accessible for visitors, highly visible and the scale of the space would allow for a “respectful and elegant” memorial wall. A second proposed location was at the courtyard to the east of the mausoleum, but Cline said it would facilitate a much larger design.
Woodlawn director Cindy Tomlinson agrees that the mausoleum entrance lawn is the most ideal location for the commemorative wall because it will provide high visibility for visitors.
City officials encourage the funds for the monument to be raised as part of a capital campaign, with the public taking the lead. Resident Jack Walter, who has attended Memorial Day services, has committed $1,000 toward the effort.
“We want to do something very fitting and respectful,” he said.
Councilman Kevin McKeown noted that the city could offer financial support if needed, but he believes the project would be more meaningful if it were fully established by the public.
Staff are planning to officially launch the project during the 75th annual Memorial Day event at Woodlawn in May, where some designs and renderings of the future monument may be presented to the public. Tomlinson said staff also hope to have a place for family members to add any names that might be missing.
While many of the fallen vets listed may not be buried at Woodlawn, the city’s cemetery is a fitting spot for the commemoration wall as a place where people generally pay their respects and where Santa Monica’s war casualties can finally return home in memory, Tomlinson said.
“This kind of brings them home to where they grew up,” she said of the city monument.