The Columbia War Memorial was unveiled during a ceremony at Butler Library on December 12th attended by Columbia alumni veterans, students, administrators and 20 of the University's trustees, all donning red paper poppies in their lapels, the symbol of American war dead since World War I.
Columbia's MilVets board members at the plaque unveiling. From left: President Peter S. Kim (GS'09), Treasurer Erika Gallegos (GS'09), Vice President Angel Quiles (GS'10), Director of Communications Sean O'Keefe (GS'10).
Image credit: Char Smullyan
The plaque honors the 460 known alumni who lost their lives in conflicts dating from the American Revolution. It will be mounted for permanent display at the entrance of Butler Library in early January, in a spot chosen because of its heavy traffic.
"I know that many people in the room have deep and personal connections to people who have died serving the country and the military," President Lee C. Bollinger told the gathering. "To those people we want to say that we deeply appreciate that, and we are proud to honor them as Columbians and also their service to the country." Noting his family's military service, he said, "My own father served in World War II, and I grew up in an environment in which service had a daily presence."
The committee that worked to bring the memorial into existence, said Toni Coffee (BC'56), a member who spoke at the unveiling, determined early on that it "must be in plain sight, where current members of the University community would see it every day—not hidden reverentially in a quiet room where it would be out of sight and out of mind."
Provost Alan Brinkley, who led the University's engagement in the war memorial's development, noted the long history of Columbia's alumni in military service. In his remarks, he recounted how a group of students during the War of 1812 volunteered to build fortifications to protect what eventually became Columbia's campus on Morningside Heights from anticipated attacks by British soldiers.
An interactive, online component of the memorial called the "Roll of Honor
" lists the names of alumni who died in war, and also contains photographs and other archival information about the University and its military veterans. The site will be periodically updated.
In her remarks, Coffee pointed out that fellow members of the committee, many of whom served in the military, wanted to make sure that the plaque honored those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. Men like Franklin Van Valkenburgh (ENG'17), the commanding officer of the USS Arizona, who died on Dec. 7, 1941 in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor from a direct bomb hit on the ship's bridge.
Originally intended to honor Columbians who died in World War II, the scope of the memorial expanded over the years to include all members of the Columbia community who had died in conflicts. The project gained new traction in 2007, when members of the U.S. Military Veterans of Columbia
(MilVets), an on-campus organization of students who are military veterans, recommended to the provost that Columbia develop a memorial. Brinkley then convened a Working Group on War Remembrance, charged with making the recommendations that have led to the memorial at Butler Library. MilVets and a broadly based committee of faculty, students, administrators and alumni helped bring the memorial to fruition.
Before he made his own remarks, chairman of the University Trustees Bill Campbell CC'62) came to a salute and gave his name, rank and serial number—he was a former member of the United States Army. "This is an emotional night," he said. "You might think it's a long time coming but we'll take it... We should all be proud of those who served and the people who worked so hard to make this memorial a reality."
—by Leah Bourne