Daughter joins in memorial dedication
Post Independent Staff
Marble residents Bettie Lou and Ray Gilbert were two of nearly 200,000 people who gathered at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Saturday at the formal dedication of the National World War II Memorial.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Gilbert said Sunday morning in a telephone call from the capital.
Gilbert’s father, Rex Heap, was a pilot and a captain in the Marines when he was killed in action on Oct. 14, 1942, during World War II. Now a member of American World War II Orphans Network (AWON), Gilbert and her husband traveled to Washington to be part of the World War II dedication and to attend AWON’s annual convention.
“There was a real feeling this weekend that the memorial is not only for those who died, but for the veterans who served, and an entire generation who prevailed,” Gilbert said. “You have to remember that winning the war at that time was not a sure thing. We look back on World War II now and it seems like it was, but it wasn’t.”
Gilbert said the mood was reverent and respectful throughout the day, which started at 9 a.m. with people filtering into the Mall for the 2 p.m. ceremony. President Bush, news anchorman and author Tom Brokaw and actor Tom Hanks addressed the crowd. And because of the enormous volume of people, giant video screens were set up, as well as loudspeakers so that everyone in attendance could see and hear the ceremony.
“We haven’t actually been to the memorial yet,” Gilbert said Sunday. “We’re planning to see it early Monday morning.”
There was plenty of free bottled water available, as well as seating for thousands and thousands of attendees.
The weather cooperated, too.
“It was around 75 degrees,” said Gilbert. “It was really an absolutely perfect day.”
Veterans, not only from World War II, but from a range of wars and conflicts, were well-represented at the Mall.
And the Rolling Thunder Rally, a group of 5,000 motorcyclists dedicated to bringing attention to prisoners of war and those missing in action, rolled through Washington as well.
“There were vets from every era,” Gilbert said of all the people at the Mall. “You could see World War II veterans in wheelchairs being helped by younger vets,” Gilbert said. “And you’d sit next to someone and they’d want to hear your story, as you’d want to hear theirs.”
On Friday, the Gilberts attended an AWON event in D.C. where Bob Dole spoke. Gilbert said Dole, who was instrumental in fund-raising efforts for the World War II memorial, told the group about his early efforts asking corporations for support.
“He said one corporate representative declined sponsoring the memorial, telling him that the memorial just didn’t fit in with their funding plans. Dole said he told him, ‘Well, World War II didn’t fit into a lot of people’s plans.'”
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518
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