LIMA — On a gray November Sunday in 1944, as America neared the third anniversary of its entry into World War II, nearly 5,000 Allen County citizens gathered along the Main Street side of the courthouse to dedicate a wood-and-glass tribute to the county’s flesh-and-blood contribution to the war effort.
“This impressive Honor Roll contains the names of approximately 7,500 Allen County men and women in the armed forces, and over 100 names in gold of those who have made the supreme sacrifice for their Country,” declared the dedication program for the Nov. 19, 1944, ceremony. “After World War II the glass covered cases containing the alphabetically arranged etched plastic name strips will be moved to a permanent War Memorial.”
Today, that “impressive Honor Roll,” like most of those whose names appeared upon it, is gone. In May 1947, two years after the end of the war in Europe, as the country and the veterans moved on, the memorial boards were dismantled.
“They will be stored in the courthouse until such time as construction of the proposed Allen County Historical Society Museum permits their erection there,” The Lima News reported May 7, 1947. “Dismantling of the boards, which were showing signs of weathering, was approved by the board of War Memorial Inc., last month.”
The Allen County Museum was not constructed until 1956. And, although the honor roll, or parts of it, apparently was displayed on the West Market Street site of the museum, the whereabouts of it today are not known.
The honor roll, sponsored by Lima’s William Paul Gallagher Post No. 96 of the American Legion, was one of two war memorials proposed for Lima as World War II wound down. In 1944, the local Marine Corps League was touting a plan for a memorial arboretum, a place filled with trees and shrubs that people could walk through. It would be comprised of one tree for every one of the estimated 200 Marines from the Lima area serving in World War II.
Planned for the southwest corner of Collett Street and North Shore Drive, it was to be known as the Shawnee Marine Memorial Arboretum. “It was to include a 15-foot high frame of red cedar logs,” the News wrote in a Nov. 2, 2000 story. “The entire area was planned to have a very rustic look. The state tree — the buckeye — was selected to hold a spot of honor just inside the entrance to the arboretum. It was to be planted in honor of Sgt. James Robert Phelan, the first area Marine killed in action.”
Although the idea was planted, no trees ever were. The plan fell victim to a wartime labor shortage and funding problems. Today the Lima chapter of the American Red Cross occupies the site planned for the arboretum.
The American Legion plan for an honor roll fared much better. “Names for the Memorial Roll of Honor listing men and women from Lima and Allen County who are serving in the military forces during the Second World War are being sought by the Allen County American Legion War Memorial, Inc.,” the News announced Jan. 30, 1944. “According to plans of the special organization formed to sponsor the establishment of the Memorial Roll, the Allen County roll will be one of the most attractive memorials in Ohio.”
Planners estimated the memorial would cost approximately $10,000, a fact Lima’s Association of Commerce took note of in its March 1944 newsletter. “Allen County American Legion War Memorial, Inc., has done a whale of a lot of work in preparing for erection of an honor roll … . The honor roll will be beautiful and permanent, and will cost around $10,000. The corporation is now launching a campaign to raise the funds.”
Much of that money would be raised one dollar at a time. Throughout the summer of 1944, ads appeared in the News seeking donations. Typical was an ad sponsored by the Lima Electric Motor Co. and Lima Armature Works: “Have you contributed to the Allen County Honor Roll? The Allen County honor roll, pictured above, will be erected by public subscription which means that funds must come from parents, relatives, friends, civic and patriotic organizations. Act today! Clip the coupon below and mail as directed with your contribution of $1 or more.”
Money also was raised through public events “Entertainment will be furnished throughout Friday evening as contributions are received for the Allen county Honor Roll at the ‘boxcar’ on the west side of public square …. ,” the News wrote of one such event that summer. “A ‘hillbilly’ orchestra will play between 8 and 8:30 p.m. and other features of entertainment will be offered for the public.”
An American Legion newsletter that summer contained a description of the memorial, as well as a reminder the war was not yet over. “Individual plastic name strips and glass enclosed hinged panels holding 10,000 strips are of permanent construction and will be fittingly housed following the war’s termination. 400 spaces in the center sections are provided for our men and women who may make the supreme sacrifice. Names will be shown in alphabetical arrangement at all times. The honor roll has a dignified memorial appearance.”
On July 9, 1944, the News reported the fund drive had topped its goal with a $400 contribution from an unnamed local manufacturer. The campaign ultimately netted around $14,000.
It also was announced dedication of the honor roll, originally planned for Nov. 11, 1944, Armistice Day (now known as Veterans Day), had been changed as well as the location, which had been moved from West Market Street to the east side of the courthouse.
“A mammoth program, featuring civic organizations, bands, floats and nationally known speakers will be the order of the day Sunday, Nov. 19, when the Allen County Honor Roll on the Main Street side of the courthouse is dedicated … ,” the News wrote Nov. 9, 1944.
The mammoth program got under way at 2 p.m. with concerts by the South and Central high school bands and the Westinghouse band, an invocation, a presentation of the honor roll to Allen County and its official unveiling.
“Overcast skies which loosed a drizzle of rain near the end of the program failed to dim the patriotic significance of the occasion as the community took this occasion to formally honor the thousands who have gone into service,” the News wrote the following day. “A highlight was the presentation of Gold Star Mothers by Rev. Harold E. Stoddard (First Baptist Church). Mothers of most of the more than 100 who have died in the service of their country during this conflict were present. Their sons’ and daughters’ names are set aside in special Gold Star panels in the Honor Roll.”
Austrian-born actor Leon Askin (best known for playing General Burkhalter in the situation comedy “Hogan’s Heroes”) delivered the address. Askin, who had been arrested by the Gestapo in his native Austria, escaped to the United States in 1940 and was serving as a technical sergeant with the Army Air Force at Wright Field in Dayton.
“I have a brother in the British army and we agreed from first-hand information that the world will never be safe until Nazism and Fascism is wiped from its face,” Askin told the crowd.
Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected]