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Efforts continue to restore lights to W.Va. Veterans Memorial

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It's lights out at the West Virginia Veterans Memorial, but no one is sure why.

Both the walkway lights outside the monument and floodlights meant to light up the memorial are on the fritz and have been for some time.

William Becher, 69, of South Charleston, said he first noticed the problem more than a year ago. The Air Force veteran said he regularly visits the Culture Center and noticed the lights were out after leaving a late-evening event.

Diane Holley-Brown, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration, said no one at the Capitol Complex's Division of General Services knows when the lights went out, but the agency was first alerted to the problem sometime last year.

"The only thing they know is it is an electrical issue. It is more extensive than changing light bulbs or anything like that," Brown said.

She said the monument's electrical circuitry needs to be evaluated, as the circuits and electrical panel "appears to be susceptible to rainwater leaking."

"Unfortunately, the panel is located in a confined space so it is difficult to determine the exact problem," she said.

The general services division is now in the process of hiring an architectural and engineering firm to assess the problem, Brown said. A contract for the project has not been awarded yet, but she said the division wanted to get the problem fixed "as soon as possible."

Becher said he believes the darkened memorial is a safety hazard, since there are no lights to illuminate the parking lot behind it. But more than that, he said leaving the lights off is discourteous to veterans.

"To me, to have the lights out this long, I think it's disrespectful," he said.

The two-story, oval monument is made of four limestone monoliths surrounded by a reflecting pool. The inside walls are covered with polished black granite etched with the names of more than 10,000 West Virginian soldiers who died in wars during the 20th century.

West Virginia sculptor Joseph Mullins also created four statues for the outside walls of the monument, honoring each military branch and major war: a World War I Army doughboy, a World War II Navy sailor, a Korean War-era Air Force aviator and a Vietnam-era Marine.

Construction on the memorial began in 1990 but was not completed until 1999 at a cost of about $4 million, according to the Division of Culture and History's website.

In 2007 a Roane County man drove his two-door Subaru into the memorial in the middle of the night. Howard Roland Gentry's car cracked one of the granite panels featuring veterans' names and knocked over two limestone barricades.

Police said Gentry, then 59, was suffering from a medical condition the night of the incident.

The state eventually sued Gentry, who also was charged with felony destruction of property, for $56,000. He eventually accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to up to one year of probation.

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