The monument at Victory Memorial Grove in Elysian Park near Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles had nearly been forgotten. Inspired by the 100 Cities 100 Memorials project of the Pritzker Military Museum and Library and the United States World War One Centennial Commission, American Legion members have helped restore it and refresh the area’s memory, or initial understanding, of what it meant.
Volunteers chose Flag Day, June 14, 2017, for the rededication ceremony. Nearly 100 people, ranging from community volunteers to Disney executives to veteran organization leaders, unveiled a stone memorial tablet that looks as good as did 97 years ago. In 1921, the Daughters of The American Revolution held the original ceremony to present the memorial in conjunction with The American Legion and local residents honoring members of the community who served and fell in the Great War. It was an effort to unite the nation in a collective celebration of victory.
The memorial plaque reads: "Erected 1921 by Daughters of the American Revolution of Southern California to honor the service in the World War of all men and women from the families of the state society and in memory of twenty one who made the supreme sacrifice."
Victory Memorial Grove is a part of the oldest park in Los Angeles. Elysian Park is filled with trees, ponds, hiking trails and the Chavez Ravine, featuring Dodger Stadium and the Los Angeles Police Academy.
“This is a park within a park,” said Janice Gordon with the California Daughters of the American Revolution Regent. “Victory Memorial Grove was donated to the city by a DAR member from our chapter. Then they erected this monument and it’s kind of a forgotten part of the park.”
The American Legion, Daughters of the American Revolution, Disney and The Mission Continues were all a part of making this come together, with action and fundraising.
Lester Probst, a member of American Legion Hollywood Post 43 who worked closely with Courtland Jindra, a war historian and volunteer with the United States World War One Centennial Commission, brought the restoration project to The American Legion.
“You know, I got involved with this for one obvious reason: The American Legion’s history with World War I, and the other is my dad who was a poster boy in World War I,” Probst said.
Jindra described restoring the monument to its original luster. “It was a pretty intense process, and this one could've been forgotten,” he said. “This is one of those when we had the conservation people come out here, they had to run two paint treatments over it. Each took 20 layers of paint off. There were over 40 layers of paint they had to take off and even after both of those, they still had to spray it down.” The layers came from a local resident who repainted the monument every time it was defaced with graffiti.
Consulate General Henri Vantieghem of Belgium represented his nation’s gratitude for America’s involvement in World War I. “Without the help of the American people we couldn't have won,” he said. “It was impossible. When America went into war it was on the basis of asking the Germans to respect 14 points of the United States. Point 7 was about Belgium. I quote President Wilson’s words, ‘Belgium, the world would agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys incumbent with all free nations.’
“We still have there thousands and thousands of young people lined in the earth and we respect them and we praise them for their sacrifice. It is very important for my country to show up these days to thank the American people for what you have done for two world wars.”
“It was quite wonderful, and we really have to thank the Disney organization, The Mission Continues, (and) we have to thank The American Legion for (supporting) us and giving DAR a bit of muscle, which we really needed, and the Park and Rec Department and everybody really,” Gordon said. “Our rededication is not just for the monument but also the grounds around here.”
“Really it boils down to individuals and these three individuals here,” said Fernando Rivero, commander of Hollywood Post 43 in reference to Probst, Courtland and Jindra. “It took their passion for this cause and their leadership to really rally their people to their side.”
“Families got involved planting little butterfly plants,” Probst said. “It was a fun day on June 3, but it also included some hard work clearing an overgrown field and planting new drought resistant plants.”
There was a planting of remembrance poppies shortly after the Grove's establishment, and 17 trees, which were donated by Capt. Walter Brinkop of the 364th Regiment's Machine Gun Company. Today there are numerous stumps, possibly from the original trees. At that time there was also talk of installing a flagpole, so that the space would always be under the colors of the country, but there is no evidence or remains of such a pole. At some point there were Arbor Day events at the location, but they don't seem to have been conducted in a long time.
The United States World War One Centennial Commission is making great efforts nationwide to encourage the restoration and maintenance of monuments to the Great War. Thousands of them across the country have fallen into disrepair. “I found over 30 memorials to the Great War in the L.A. County area,” Jindra said. “Many around the area and across the state and around the country can be saved like this one.”
In observance of the centennial of World War I, 100 matching grants of up to $2,000 each will be awarded for the restoration of 100 World War I memorials across the United States.