Pictures and text by Anonymous
These pictures were taken in January, 2006, in Des Moines, Iowa. The Fort Des Moines Memorial Park and Education Center is located on Fort Des Moines, an Army Reserve training facility located at 225 East Army Post Road in Des Moines, Iowa.
The memorial is typically American to the extent that it is a functioning building named in memory of something and not just a statue or other marker.
|The photo shows the central monument of the facility. The monument appears to be depicting dolphins on top; the objects below the upper ring are abstract. It was designed by the well known sculptor Richard Hunt, who is himself a black US Army veteran.|
Further Background and Commentary:
The base began construction in 1901 and two years later became home to two companies of the all-black 25th Army Infantry. In 1917 it established the 17th Provisional Training Regiment and began training the first class of black commissioned officers in US history. Most of the graduating class of 639 led the 92nd Division in France against Germany. The same year they established a training camp for black medical specialists. Although African Americans had fought for the US in the Revolutionary War, they did so individually in the militia, not as regulars. Three African Americans had previously graduated from West Point, but there too they were pioneering individuals, not a distinguishing group. At the time, even President Wilson had openly questioned whether African Americans possessed the native courage and intelligence to lead men in battle. In 1942 it became the first Women's Army Auxiliary Corps training facility, training female officers and NCOs who then served in WWII. In 1976 it was declared a National Historic Landmark and in 1997 a memorial to honor America's first African American officers class and first WAACs was built there.
The facility is well preserved and still 'operational'. The buildings are well maintained, the grounds are groomed, and the location is regularly used as a training facility. As a memorial, however, it is less operational. Tours are available strictly on an appointment only basis, and there is only a single guide who gives these tours.
I found it difficult to imagine that people make appointments and trips just to look at this monument and a handful of displayed graduating class of and the WAACs training pictures. When it comes down to it, people are not drawn to a location for reverence when it does not directly commemorate a war or those who died for their country in war. People are simply not drawn to a memorial for a graduating class. War stirs the imagination and the blood. Grand monuments of national beliefs (the Statue of Liberty), national heroes (Abe Lincoln Square and Mount Rushmore), and memorials of battle (too numerous to mention) stir the blood. Training and graduation do not.
This memorial was constructed in 1997, during the time when Colin Powell served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest position that exists in the US military. In this position he reported directly President Clinton and Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen. He is an African American born in Brooklyn, New York. He was the first African American to have reached the position of CJCS. At one point between tours in the Pentagon, he made some efforts to build and restore memorials to the contributions that black soldiers had made to the US military. The memorial's website lists a quote from him made in 1999. I suspect that he was involved in the project. I believe that this is a case wherein the memorial was built not specifically to honor the African American and WAACs trained there (such was a noteworthy achievement, but does not contain the native drive for commemoration that normally results in the construction of a memorial), but was instead driven by the desire to declare the national virtue of respect for its constituent African Americans.