Al Rinn, 93, remembers the Battle of Okinawa as if he served there yesterday.
“We had a whole month of rain, it seemed,” said Rinn, a Jersey City resident who served in the Marine Corps from 1942 to 1946. His service including the 82-day battle on the Japanese island, considered one of the bloodiest conflicts during World War II.
“Nothing but mud, and it was such a brutal battle,” he said last week.
After the war, Rinn returned home to become a Jersey City police officer and raise a family.
“I would put that as a high priority.” – Jamie Vazquez
Rinn admits that it is a “daydream” that he may never see while still on this earth. But Rinn doesn’t mind dreaming a bit about honoring these veterans, who are becoming a vanishing group. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates an average of 850 World War II veterans die each day.
If a memorial does get built in his lifetime, Rinn would like to see it placed in Journal Square when new development commences in future years, or on the downtown Jersey City waterfront, not far from where he grew up.
But like all dreams, reality tends to get in the way. To build a memorial like the one Rinn wants, it takes a good deal of money and time. The Korean War Memorial located at the foot of Washington Street in Jersey City cost over $150,000 to build – much of it raised by the Korean War Veterans of Hudson County with financial contributions by former Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham and former Hudson County Robert Janiszewski. And it was a four-year effort from its conception in 1998 to its unveiling in November 2002, with the veterans giving credit to Cunningham, a Marine Corps vet, for coming through with the final $40,000 to complete the project.
Jersey City Councilman Bill Gaughan, a Navy veteran during peacetime in the late 1950s, supports Rinn’s idea. But he says it’s not feasible to construct a memorial in a bad economy.
“Just wanting to come up with an idea that talks about [World War II] is a fine idea,” Gaughan said. “But these are not good times to be raising money.”
Mayor Jerramiah Healy, in a statement last week about the memorial proposal, said the city “is not in the fiscal position to finance or fund the construction of such a memorial, nor the acquisition of a site for it to be placed.”
WWII commemorated here
If it is any consolation to Rinn, a number of monuments and events in Jersey City already commemorate the service of World War II veterans.
A small mural painted on the Third Street Side of Public School 5 in downtown Jersey City honors those who fought in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The original version of the mural was created on the spur of the moment on Aug. 14, 1945, the end of World War II, by three young men who lived within blocks of it. Over the years, others have added to it.
In Pershing Field, the city park located between Summit and Central avenues, copper plaques are located at ground level on the Summit Avenue side with the names of soldiers from World War II, as well as when they perished.
Parks across the city carry monuments with the names of World War II servicemen who died in combat, such as Sgt. Joseph Anthony Park on Palisade Avenue, and Martyniak-Enright Park on the corner of Pamrapo Avenue and Old Bergen Road.
Healy noted in his statement that the city conducts an annual tribute to those who died at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, and also takes part in Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies.
So it begs the question: Is there a need for a specific World War II memorial in Jersey City?
Jamie Vazquez, the city’s Veterans Affairs director and Vietnam War vet, said there is “definitely” a need. Especially with the average age of the World War II veteran being 85, and not many still alive to push for a memorial.
“I would put that as a high priority,” Vazquez said. “The longer you take, the fewer veterans will be around to be acknowledged for their contributions.” –
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.