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More than three million visitors arrive at Arlington National Cemetery’s hallowed grounds each year to pay their respects to American patriots. Scattered throughout the cemetery’s rolling hills, guests can also visit dozens of memorials. Sitting proudly atop a hill – sandwiched between sections 4 and 8 – is one of these memorials. It’s the Coast Guard Memorial.
Warmly referred to as Coast Guard Hill due to its prominence, the memorial is a 12-foot pyramid rising out of the ground and is constructed of marble on a base of granite. The memorial pays homage to Coast Guardsman who lost their lives in World War I, including those who perished aboard the USS Tampa – the largest single loss of life suffered by our naval forces during the war.
Dedicated May 23, 1928, the memorial was designed by architect George Howe with each of the pyramid’s faces engraved with the names of Coast Guardsmen lost at sea during World War I. At the foot of the pyramid is a bronze seagull, made by famed sculptor Gaston Lachaise, to exemplify the zeal and persistence of the Coast Guard in its duties.
While the symbolism and strength of the memorial is powerful, eight decades have taken their toll. There was a significant piece of marble near the top – almost fist sized – that was gone. Some of the engraving had begun to wear down; names were starting to disappear. The Coast Guard’s iconic anchor and shield had deteriorated. The memorial was waning.
True to the words written by Frank L. Toon on the memorial’s dedication – “It is to the Coast Guard, of the Coast Guard, by the Coast Guard, a memorial by our own to our own.” – Coast Guardsmen themselves stepped in to restore the monument.
The Washington D.C. chapter of the Chief Petty Officers Association led the efforts to begin restoration and at the end of July formed a committee. The largest part of their efforts focused on fundraising as the restoration was estimated at close to $95,000 to complete.
For help, the D.C. chapter reached out to other chapters and units throughout the country and soon Coast Guard supporters were all doing their part. The memorial and what it stands for is important and the Coast Guard family responded in droves, exceeding the association’s fundraising goals.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Jonathan Grimes is chair of the committee to restore the memorial and sees the work of all those who have come together as more than just restoring a memorial. When he discusses the outpouring of support, he says he gets chills.
“It reaffirms our values,” said Grimes. “We use our core values a lot as words but here, we are putting them into action.”
There were many donors who added to the fundraising efforts, including Coast Guard veteran J. David Power III. Power donated a Camaro through the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation who raffled it off for more than $35,000. The generosity of supporters did not stop there, however, and together with the help of the Foundation for Coast Guard History, Coast Guard Foundation, Naval Order and Veterans of Foreign Wars the fundraising efforts are now complete.
Restoration on the memorial has already begun and the first phase of repairing the pyramid is nearing completion. Parts that were deteriorating have been rebuilt and names that had been almost wiped away over the years stand out once again.
“This project has truly been blessed in many ways – a tribute to all who re-committed themselves to the values of honor and respect for the sacrifice of those whose names are engraved upon this memorial,” wrote Grimes in a note to supporters.
There is still work to be done, however, and the chiefs will continue to lead the way in ensuring the memorial’s marble shines just as brightly as the day it was dedicated. After all, this isn’t just about marble and granite being repaired. It’s about ensuring the legacy of each of the names on the memorial live on.