The center of Town Square may look different come Nov. 11, when the American Legion hopes to unveil a new tribute to local veterans.
The proposed monument — an eight-paneled work of black granite with etched names and iconic images from each war — would replace the current stone pillar, which commemorates only the Jackson Hole veterans who served in the first four major U.S. conflicts of the 20th century: World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
“The existing monument unfortunately stopped honoring veterans after Vietnam,” said Greg McCoy, commander of American Legion Post 43.
He spoke at the Town Council meeting Monday when elected officials approved the project.
Without the conflicts of the past four decades, McCoy said, more than 500 names are missing. “Afterthought plaques” have been tacked on over the years for the Persian Gulf and Iraq wars, but an altogether new monument would include all the veterans in a unified way and provide for the next generations with two blank panels.
“We need to honor all our veterans in the past and toward the future,” said Donald Perkins, a veteran and longtime Jackson resident. “We need a monument that can show the history and one that has room for future conflicts.”
But as with many monuments across the country in recent years, this one raised concerns over how best to remember history — in this case, how to honor and veterans without “creating that sense of glorification or inappropriate flag waving,” in the words of Town Councilor Jonathan Schechter.
The Public Art Task Force, which reviewed the plans, recommended an unadorned style with only veterans’ names. The task force argued that images of war would not be appropriate for the public space and would deflect attention from the names.
Councilor Jim Stanford agreed, saying, “I’m not sure that the imagery and the rhetoric has a place.
“The point of this monument is to honor those who served,” he said. “Putting the names up, and doing it in a tasteful way and an artistic way that matches the feel of the square, to me is a great way to honor those who have served.”
But McCoy and the two dozen or so veterans who attended the meeting to support the project, insisted the illustrations are essential to the public’s comprehension of the monument.
“A simple list of names does absolutely nothing for the viewers other than confuse them,” McCoy said. “Later generations will not understand anything about these eras if we simply put up a list of names. Let’s not attempt to erase history but rather embrace it.”
“None of these images are graphic in nature,” he added, “nor should they offend any patriotic American.”
Others urged the councilors to look past criticisms and focus on the importance of recognizing those who have served in the armed forces.
“There’s never been a monument ever built anywhere without controversy,” said Joe Albright, a veteran and St. John’s Medical Center trustee. “You really have to take a consensus of everything concerned, not whether there’s one objection somewhere. There’s bound to be an objection somewhere.
“Let’s get on with it,” he concluded.
In the end the councilors (minus Mayor Pete Muldoon, who recused himself because he is a Legion member) unanimously agreed to a monument with images. But they did reject the Legion’s original proposal to alternate between an image on one panel and a quote on the next.
For example, one of the quotes, which Stanford called “divisive and disputable,” came from President Richard Nixon: “No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now.”
As Councilor Arne Jorgensen put it, “The imagery is what happened. The rhetoric is how someone was framing it. To me there’s a distinction between the two of them.”
McCoy said the Legion has no problem with forgoing the quotes.
The councilors asked to take one last look at the final design and hear public feedback on it, before construction starts on the new monument. The statue of a horse and rider atop the monument will remain as it is.
“As stewards of the Town Square,” Councilor Hailey Morton Levinson said, “knowing that thousands of people visit it a day from all over the world, we just want to make sure we’re all proud of what’s there.”