In a year that has seen the loss of thousands of veterans to COVID-19 and many more infected, we salute ongoing local efforts to honor those who fought for our country on this Veterans Day.
Although pandemic-induced cuts have grounded commercial flights into Dubuque Regional Airport, efforts there to honor one of the community’s most decorated veterans continue — and still need local support.
Airport Commission members voted in July to name its airport terminal in honor of Robert L. Martin, a Dubuque native and Tuskegee Airman.
The commemoration is a wonderful plan to pay tribute to Martin, a war hero who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart and the Congressional Gold Medal, among other commendations.
Martin’s achievements and his humble roots in Dubuque are a part of local history that should be told, saluted and immortalized. This recognition will raise the profile of the pioneering Black World War II combat pilot.
Donations are being gathered in hopes of collecting $100,000 for the design, construction and installation of the recognition. The Airport Commission and community organizers have taken the first steps in telling that story.
Now, it’s up to the community to offer support.
Across town, Veterans Memorial Plaza on Chaplain Schmitt Island remains closed to the public during construction, but inside a vision honoring local vets is taking shape.
The plaza buildout includes a memorial pier from which a striking, stainless-steel edifice pays tribute to the island’s namesake. Standing 24 feet tall and weighing 18,000 pounds, the spiraling sculpture named “Skyward” will be the centerpiece of a project to reshape Veterans Memorial Plaza.
Upon completion of the memorial in May, people will be able to walk inside the sculpture and read the engraved lines of the poem “Rain,” by World War I officer Edward Thomas. The poem remarks on the sacrifice of human life in war. The incisions in the sculpture represent the rain referenced in the poem. At night, lights will illuminate the statue from the inside, sending a beam of light upward.
The shape and aesthetic of “Skyward” are symbolic in multiple ways. Its title references Chaplain Aloysius Schmitt, who is credited with helping 12 other sailors climb through a porthole to escape the sinking USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, sacrificing his own chance to flee in the process. When someone enters the sculpture, they can look up and see the last thing Schmitt saw as he hoisted men out of the ship — the sky.
In addition, the Tri-State Vietnam Veterans Memorial recently was relocated to the plaza for a more prominent and accessible location.
It will be spring before the entire $3.2 million project is complete and the plaza is reopened to the public. Maybe by then, we will be able to gather safely.
This Veterans Day, when we are unable to come together en masse to honor all those who served their country, we will not forget their sacrifice. We celebrate these efforts in our community designed to raise the profile of and honor our veterans. We offer a salute to all who served.