Operation Kilroy: Bricks to pave way for World War II memorial

Brick by brick, a dream is getting closer to reality. Organizers planning to build a World War II monument at Wichita's Veterans Memorial Park are raising money in part by selling commemorative bricks honoring Wichita-area World War II vets at $100 each. That has brought in $7,500 so far for the $35,000 project.

"Getting this done isn't a life or death matter," said Phil Blake, 87, a World War II veteran and one of the leaders of the effort. "But I'd like to get it done while I'm still around and so do many of the other World War II veterans. They want it done this year."

Plans call for the completed memorial to be dedicated around Dec. 7 — the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. But the dedication won't be held on Dec. 7, out of respect for the few remaining Wichita-area Pearl Harbor survivors who will hold their own ceremony that day, Blake said.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the World War II memorial and an American Revolutionary War monument will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 9.

The Revolutionary War monument is scheduled to be completed in 2013. But since the two monuments will be only 40 feet apart, Blake said about $10,000 can be saved by pouring the concrete footings for both projects at the same time. That work is expected to begin about July 19.

The bricks being sold for the World War II memorial will be used to pave the walkway leading to the two 6-foot tall, 8-inch-thick granite panels.

The bricks will be engraved with a veteran's name, branch of service, theater of operation and dates of service.

For years, Blake has been the unofficial caretaker for maintaining Wichita's war memorials and getting new ones established. About a decade ago, people began going to him to ask about getting a World War II monument in Veterans Memorial Park, along the Arkansas River near downtown.

Things began to solidify last fall when World War II Memorial Inc. was established to guide the plans.

The project has been dubbed "Operation Kilroy," in reference to the bald-headed man poking his long nose over a wall next to the inscription "Kilroy was here." That popped up all over the country and war theaters during World War II, and it will also be engraved on the back of one of the panels.

Blake wasn't keen on using bricks as a fundraiser at first. He thought they would be more trouble than they would be worth.

But as word spread about the bricks, the demand for them grew.

"I started getting checks in the mail," Blake said. "It's hard to say no to that kind of thing, so I changed my mind."

By Blake's estimate, about 20,000 men and women from the Wichita area served in the military during World War II.

Current plans call for only 500 commemorative bricks, but Blake said the walkway's width could be expanded to increase the number to 1,000.

Still, he said, "We may have to turn some people away. We don't have an infinite amount of space."

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