Members of Felix Sosa-Camejo American Legion Post 346 had been working hard since January to help restore a veterans memorial monument in Miami's Woodland North Cemetery. They stripped layers of paint from statues of a sailor, an Army nurse, a soldier and a Marine that circle the monument's obelisk. They had it looking quite like it did when it was first erected in pieces between 1923 and 1930 by Harvey W. Seed American Legion Post 29, which had bought a large plot to honor World War I veterans within the cemetery.
Today, Woodland North provides a final resting place for those who have fought in every American conflict since the Civil War, including Post 346's namesake, who was killed in action during the Vietnam War.
Ulises Ruiz, Post 346's second vice commander and past historian, says the monument at Woodland North traditionally serves as the backdrop for the post's public Memorial Day services, but over the years, the statues had been painted several times. "We had been saying for years that it didn't look appropriate," Ruiz says. Post 346 brought the situation to the attention of Dade County District Commissioner Jose Diaz, who went then to Florida International University Adjunct Professor Hugo Moro for a solution.
Moro, who teaches ceramics, mixed media and sculpture, recruited four students to help restore the monument as a project for class credit. The university representatives, Post 346 members and members of other veterans organizations, with financial support from Diaz's office, chemically removed what turned out to be several layers of paint applied over the decades. Each successive layer revealed a different aesthetic scheme, Moro says, such as a cream coating to resemble local stone and a polychrome layer later painted to approximate the statues' uniforms. The stripping revealed fine details of the statues, such as eyebrows, that had been hidden by the layers of paint. The group reconditioned the statues to look, as closely as possible, as they did when they were first unveiled some 80 years ago.
Moro and his team re-cast and replaced the statues' hands and the items they held; the arms had been hacked off by vandals some years ago. The restoration was nearing completion in time for this Memorial Day.
But over the weekend of April 17-18, vandals struck again. They sneaked into the cemetery, found paint the team was storing on-site, and splattered it on the statues. The nurse's face was given a smudge of black paint to make her look like Adolf Hitler. What Moro describes as a "few hundred" hours' worth of work could have been ruined. Luckily, however, the paint was water-based, and was still wet enough when the vandalism was discovered that most of it could be peeled off. Spray paint, Moro says, would have been much worse.
In the face of the setback, Ruiz was resolute to finish the restoration by Memorial Day. "Due to the history of the monument, and all the wars it represents, everyone is trying. We are working very hard to finish it."
Yet again, two weeks ago, vandals hacked off the statues' hands. Moro once again repaired them, and the Memorial Day event - complete with color guard - is still on. Ruiz sees no evidence of a campaign of attack against the veterans memorial.
Moro adds that it is extremely important to the city's culture to restore such a monument. "Miami is a young city," he says. "We don't have a lot of history - most structures were too new to not be destroyed for redevelopment.
Everything we still have, especially a memorial to veterans by a known artist, is important." The monument was sculpted by Robert Paul "R.P." Goldie, who was born in Germany but lived in Miami during the 1920s. He used local military personnel as models for the four statues. He also did a number of projects for public parks in the Northeast.
With their task nearly complete, Ruiz, Moro and all those who worked on the restoration are now considering a new issue: how to protect the monument from further vandalism, so that future generations can remember the history of both a city and its veterans. Law enforcement cannot afford to provide the monument extra security. There is talk of putting up a historically accurate iron fence with a gate, but funds are not in place. "At this point," Ruiz comments, "a fence is really the only solution."
For more information on the monument, contact Post 346 Finance Officer Bob Molleda at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to P.O. Box 941415, Miami, FL 33194.