In the 1990s, when I worked in St. Louis, the Soldiers’ Memorial, central to the Downtown Memorial Plaza, felt more forgotten than anything else. Several wars later, it has a new life. Built to commemorate the dead of World War I, the Memorial had a central place in Progressive politics and the City Beautiful movement in St. Louis before it became a Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works project and was, finally, built and finished just in time for World War II.
FDR visited on October 14, 1936, and in his speech dedicating the site, declared, “We build monuments to commemorate the spirit of sacrifice in war- reminders of our desire for peace.”
Soldiers’ Memorial was built to commemorate men like Lieutenant Victor O. Crane of St. Louis who was killed at Soissons on July 19 or 21, 1918. His letters, excerpted below, are in the collection of the Missouri Historical Society, probably in the World War I collection , though I failed to note that in the draft exhibit script these quotes are from.
Lt. Victor O. Crane, Letter to his Mother, Feb 4, 1918: “I am mighty glad to be over here, so don’t worry mother dear for this is the most fortunate opportunity of my life, there is not a man back in the states that I would trade places with and you know ‘All things work together for good.’”
Letter to Lt. Victor O. Crane’s mother from 2nd Lieut. Cowing: “You were constantly in his thoughts, and just the night before the attack started he took me to one side and asked me to notify you in case of any accident to him. He took part in the great offensive and went over the top five times before his death. He did his part bravely and well. ”
One of the most striking features of the memorial is the ceiling of the central area, dedicated to the Gold Star Mothers. It would be cold comfort, that tile ceiling, but the visual allusion is undoubtedly striking and a vibrant, brilliant, reminder of the human cost of war.