While we were in Columbus Bob remembered a wall that a friend of his told him about. He told Bob that there were two walls outside of the Ohio Statehouse that was really emotional. He said that the walls were etched with copies of letters from soldiers to their loved ones back home. As we approached the walls we determined, from the dates and the content of the letters, that they covered military conflicts from WWI to the present Desert Shield in Iraq. The letters also indicated if the writers were KIA (Killed In Action) or MIA (Missing in Action). I can't begin to describe the depth of the emotions I felt as I read the letters to parents, siblings, wives, and children from soldiers who were in the thick of the conflict. We often read stories and watch movies from various aspects of the fighting but few actually have gotten into the emotions and private moments of those fighting. Some of these soldiers would never return, either killed or missing. I think I was putting myself in the place of the loved ones. After we finished our visit I went inside the Statehouse (we were there on a Sunday) and tried to find out something about the walls. Unfortunately the person at the visitors' desk was unable to give me any information. I felt disappointed that there was no plaque in front of the walls giving their origin, etc. Well, the hunt was on. I was determined to find out how these walls came about. I made several phone calls to various agencies and finally was referred to Donald R. Lanthorn with the Columbus Chapter of the American Legion. His answer to me was as follows: "The "walls" to which you allude are located on the East side of the Statehouse Annex and are referred to as the Ohio Veterans Plaza. Construction was undertaken in the early to mid 90s during the Statehouse renovation project of the Capitol Square. There is a plaque in the Statehouse basement, between the restrooms adjacent to the Map Room. I believe there were seventy-one veterans organizations participating in the project. On specific holidays there are eighty-eight US flags that are erected between the annex and plaza (one for each county), and the county name is noted at the base of each.
We participated for The American Legion in the project, receiving letters, evaluating them, etc...and are pleased you find it moving. The letters that made it to "cut in stone" were just a few of, if memory serves me correctly, 1200 submissions. At one time I had copies of them all, and I am sure they are available from someone, but when our headquarters moved to Delaware from Columbus our files were purged of much historical information available elsewhere."
While Mr. Lanthorn answered some of my questions I was still interested in finding the story behind the origin of the wall, so, being the basically lazy and computer-oriented person that I am I decided to look further on-line and was finally able to find more information on the walls on the Ohio Statehouse website. Through this site I learned that the plaza was dedicated in August 1998.
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The inspiration for the Ohio Veterans Plaza will surely become a legend in years to come. In 1981, two Vietnam Veterans, Carl Chandler and Harry Edwards, erected under the cover of night on the Capitol grounds a hand painted four-by-eight-foot sheet of plywood as a tribute to veterans of the Vietnam War. As the story goes, the two were to be charged with trespassing and destruction of state property until then-State Sen. Richard Pfeiffer, intervened. Pfeiffer, also a Vietnam Veteran, convinced officials to allow the hand-made monument to stand for a specific period of time. Shortly thereafter, the Ohio Legislature passed a bill to install a permanent veterans monument. The plaza honors Ohio men and women who have served our country since World War II, as well as those who will serve in the future.
Designed by Schooley Caldwell Associates, the memorial was part of the state's comprehensive restoration of the 10-acre Capitol Square. Construction of the plaza was the final feature of site improvements on the east grounds. After completion, the Ohio Veterans Plaza became the new east entrance to the Capitol Complex, a symbol that our government could not exist without the sacrifices Ohio veterans have made. The plaza was dedicated in August 1998.
Design components of the plaza include:
• Two curved Ohio limestone walls that are inscribed with actual correspondence sent home to families, friends and loved ones by members of the armed forces involved in conflicts
• Two fountains surrounded by benches and annual flowers
• Plaque designations of the five branches of the armed services
• Inscribed names of Ohio's 88 counties with accompanying flagpoles
• Flagpoles displaying American, Ohio and POW/MIA flags
• A large grassy lawn to commemorate the traditional parade ground atmosphere of a military post.
The plaza serves as the entrance for all tour and school groups and features a drop-off area for buses. The plaza and its design features not only commemorate veterans, but serve as an appropriate educational vehicle for the many visitors and students who pass the Statehouse grounds every day.
Finally, an answer to the beginnings of these fantastic walls. Again, this story reinforces the fact that individuals can make a difference. I really loved my experience at this beautiful area and highly recommend it to anyone visiting Ohio's Capitol.