In a compromise with those who denounced the idea of displaying battle scenes on the Town Square, the American Legion designed its new veterans monument with “human moments” instead.
No half-raised flag on Iwo Jima. No helicopters soaring over the rice paddies of Vietnam. Just soldiers in nonviolent, and sometimes touching, snapshots of history that reflect each of the last century’s major conflicts. With the approval of the Town Council on Tuesday, those images will adorn the very heart of Jackson come Veterans Day.
“These are tough discussions and emotional ones,” Councilor Arne Jorgensen said. “I know that we each interact with this kind of information in different ways.”
The American Legion has insisted the images are a vital part of the overall monument, which now consists of a stone pillar bearing bronze plaques with the names of Jackson Hole veterans from throughout the 20th century.
Some of the proposed images depict significant scenes, like the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri that marked the end of World War II. Several show soldiers apparently helping young children in war-torn countries.
But critics argue that even these more muted photographs — which will be etched into slanted panels of black granite — detract from the monument’s power. Councilor Jim Stanford, the sole vote against the new design, worried the images would prove divisive and be inappropriate for the town’s most heavily trafficked public space.
“If we limit it just to the names, we’re honoring the people who served, and we leave it at that,” he said. “We’re grateful for their service, and we leave everything else out.”
The basis for updating the monument is to add the names of roughly 500 veterans of the last two U.S. wars — Persian Gulf and Iraq — and to provide space for those of future wars.
The Public Art Task Force has also pushed for a design with only names, similar to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., since “this is a memorial to the soldiers, not the wars themselves.”
Adam Duncan Harris, a member of the task force, wrote in a personal letter that “this dark, space-age looking construction will be incongruous at best, ominous, off-putting, and foreboding at worst.” He suggested moving it out of the Town Square to somewhere more private.
“Simply locating the memorial in a different place and giving people room to quietly contemplate what it represents solves so many of the contentious issues that this monument has brought up and will continue to bring up if plans move forward to locate it in the center of our town square,” he wrote.
The Teton County Historic Preservation Board joined in resisting the update, writing in a letter to the council that “great care must be taken when altering important elements of such an important site.”
Katherine Wonson, chairwoman of the board, warned that too much change in Town Square could jeopardize its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Though the monument itself, built in 1976, is too young to qualify for the register, it is an integral piece of the square overall, which has been listed since 2003.
She said she is not seriously concerned that the site could lose its status solely because of a new monument but said, “I think it’s a dangerous precedent to set.
“Unlike just a building on a street that’s historic, this is to me a pivotal property,” she said. “If our crown jewel eventually is delisted, it’s more than just any old property getting delisted.”
However, Wonson and the other opponents agree that the American Legion has good reason to update the monument, at least for the sake of recognizing all of Jackson Hole’s veterans.
“This is an important thing they’re trying to do,” she said. “We very much respect what they’re trying to do. They have a legitimate need to change this.”
A final design will come before town councilors no later than Sept. 16, so they can approve it in time for the Legion to have the monument prepared for an unveiling on Nov. 11. The council will also consider whether to add images of Jackson as it looked during the period of each war.