Design chosen for MU post-WWI memorial

Sunday, May 26, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:46 a.m. CDT, Monday, May 27, 2013
Designer Karen Johnson was impressed by the U.S. military's "missing man formation," an aerial salute to fallen pilots and used that design, as well as the MU Columns, for inspiration on her memorial design, which will be installed at Memorial Union, North Tower.

COLUMBIA — One day, looking at the MU Columns on the Francis Quadrangle, Karen Johnson wondered what would happen if a column were missing.

The community reaction would be huge, she thought. Everyone would know. They would feel the void.


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She wanted to symbolize that feeling in a war memorial she was designing to honor post-World War I veterans who were enrolled or worked at MU.

She had also been impressed by the U.S. military's "missing man formation," an aerial salute to fallen pilots. Her father, a Navy pilot, took her to air shows when she was small to see the flyover.

Johnson created her design as part of an architectural studies class at MU. From among 14 submitted by students in the class, hers was selected to be installed near the information desk in Memorial Union, North Tower.

The memorial will be dedicated in November during the annual wreath-laying ceremony on Veterans Day. Right now, construction on the memorial is in preliminary stages, said Tracy Schultz, assistant director of the Missouri Student Unions.  

Elements of the design

In Johnson's design, the columns represent MU students, faculty and staff. A light beam shines where one column is missing to remember those who are no longer living.

It is a twist on the missing man formation, in which aircraft fly in a complete "V" until one plane leaves an empty space.

"In a crazy way, it's design-oriented," Johnson said. "We like things to be symmetrical, but it's asymmetrical, so it catches the eye."

Incorporating the columns also makes the memorial timeless, she said.

"The beam of light could symbolize any one of (the veterans) for any era, or age, or war, or conflict," she said. "I hope that veterans feel that they're a part of it."

To the left of the columns, the names of veterans will be placed on glass in a simulated etching so names can continue to be added.

"In a transparent manner, she overlaid campus symbolism with military symbolism," said Marty Walker, a retired Marine and member of the Chancellor's Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs.

The memorial will be accompanied by a portable electronic kiosk allowing visitors to access information about the veterans. The display could include voice recordings from veterans who participated in an oral history program through the Library of Congress or the state of Missouri.

It was important for the design to have both a physical monument and an electronic kiosk, said Craig Roberts, chairman of the MU Faculty Council Student Affairs Committee .

"People on active duty wanted something physical — as one man said, something he could run his fingers across,'" Roberts said.

Additional locations on campus for kiosks are being considered, Walker said.

History of the effort

Faculty Council's committee has been working with the chancellor's committee for about 18 months on a memorial to honor MU students, faculty and staff veterans who have served in World War II and later wars.

"We want to represent the veterans in a tasteful, honorable way, which I think they deserve," Walker said.

The Memorial Union tower is a monument to those who died serving in World War I. A plaque in Memorial Union North commemorates MU students who died in World War II, and another plaque recognizes contributions MU veterans have made, Walker said.

Roberts said he thinks it's significant that the idea for the memorial in Faculty Council came from nonveterans.

"It shows that faculty, by and large, appreciate the freedom of education and speech, but that it comes at a cost," he said.

The student affairs committee let the chancellor's committee take the lead because that committee consists of veterans, Roberts said.

The chancellor's committee brought the idea to architectural studies Assistant Professor Newton D'Souza, who turned it into a competitive class project to create a student-centered design for a memorial.

Johnson and 13 others from the class presented their designs to members of the chancellor's committee. The entire committee and Roberts then made its selection from three finalists.

Under the leadership of MU Chancellor Brady Deaton, MU has become known as a military-friendly campus, Walker said. During Deaton's time as chancellor, the MU Veterans Center was created and a veterans' barbecue, the first held on the Francis Quadrangle, was started.

"(The status) ensures we have veterans coming home to this campus," Walker said.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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