Plaques removed from St. Louis veterans park amid controversy

Friday, May 2, 2008 | 3:03 p.m. CDT; updated 12:42 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

ST. LOUIS — As a World War II soldier, Ralph Barrale helped liberate survivors from the Dachau concentration camp. So he has no use for Holocaust deniers.

The 84-year-old Army veteran said that in the same way, he's upset that some in his community of Lake Saint Louis don't want to read the "good and the bad" of America's conflicts at a new veterans memorial in the St. Louis suburb.

For two years, Barrale has chaired a planning committee for the 4.5-acre Lake Saint Louis Veterans Memorial Park set to open May 17, Armed Forces Day. The park is in the shape of a six-pointed star honoring veterans from each branch of military service.

Until this week, the park included small metal plaques atop pedestals that summarized the nation's conflicts — from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terrorism — including "mistakes" and "consequences."

On Wednesday, the planning committee decided to remove the plaques after some veterans complained. Organizers said they didn't want the plaques to mar the dedication ceremony. They were removed Thursday.

City Administrator Paul Markworth said new plaques will provide years of conflict and casualties only.

Lake Saint Louis Police Chief Michael Force, who spent 22 years in the Marine Corps, told the veterans committee the memorial was an inappropriate place for the plaques.

"The details of war are certainly important," he said. "They need to be taught. There's certainly a forum for things we've done in the past. But in my mind, a veterans park is a place where you go and contemplate sacrifices made for the country. I was concerned people would find it not to be what they're expecting."

He said "whether a war is right should not be debated" at a soldiers memorial.

The "mistakes" and "consequences" cited on the plaques varied from incorrect assumptions about Communists in the Korean War to perceptions that the U.S. was conducting a crusade against Muslims in the War on Terrorism.

The Korean War entry cited the consequence that it led to the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War entry said the U.S. military failed to find a doctrine to fight a guerrilla war, and that U.S. leaders did not understand the impact of daily TV coverage of the war.

Another plaque said the Afghanistan and Iraq wars "failed to enable viable governments leading to continued guerrilla fighting."

"We feel like future generations should know what happened in the past ... the good and the bad," Barrale said.

A subcommittee including a veteran who taught university-level history researched the information for the plaques to ensure they were factually correct, Barrale said. Still, Barrale received an e-mail this week from an alderman stating that some in the community were upset with the plaques' contents, and disputing their accuracy. Markworth said he was aware of other complaints but wouldn't elaborate.

George Rich, a retired Boeing engineer from Lake Saint Louis who helped with the project, said he stands "behind every single sentence as truth."

"Democracy demands a lot from its citizens," Rich said. "It demands they have to understand a lot more issues than if they were in a dictatorship or a kingdom."

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