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Book Review–Central Florida’s World War II Veterans

Central Florida's World War II Veterans

Grenier, Bob. Central Florida’s World War II Veterans (Images of America). Charleston: Arcadia Publishing. 2016. 128 pages, b/w photos. ISBN 9781467116794, $21.99.

The Greatest Generation, those who fought World War II in whatever function, is silently, yet rapidly, passing on to their reward. When you stop to think that the end of World War II was more than 75 years ago you can easily fathom that it will not be long until the last veterans from the war pass.

Author Bob Grenier, who wears many hats including historian, museum curator, Walt Disney World employee, politician, historical activist, and more, has written what I find to be a very fitting tribute to the common soldier. This is not a book glamorizing the Generals or the Colonels, or even the Lieutenants. This is not a book glamorizing war nor condemning the enemy.

Robert M. McTueous Marine Corps photo
Robert M. McTureous,  Jr., Medal of Honor recipient. Photo courtesy United States Marine Corps

Instead, this is a book that reminds us of the soldiers who went to serve in faraway lands they might not have been able to find on a map were real people. They were fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, husbands, or boyfriends. In some cases, they were daughters, wives, sisters, aunts, or girl friends who served in organizations like WAVES, or as nurses, or were part of the Red Cross. Many of these brave women led the charge from the home front, planting Victory Gardens, recycling materials, working in manufacturing roles, single handedly caring for families, and struggling to keep morale high at home and abroad.  Their importance and contributions should not be forgotten. Not all the men in the book survived. Some, like Medal of Honor recipient Robert M. McTureous, Jr., paid the ultimate price.

The book is broken down geographically into eight chapters with a concluding chapter titled Florida’s Gallant Sons and Daughters. The chapters feature soldiers who lived in or moved to an area and also highlights local markers or memorials to the War. Each chapter is loaded with photos; some contemporary, some from the war, some personal such as wedding photos, and some are memorials and remembrances. All tell a story though, and through the limited text allowed for each image, Grenier helps evoke a feeling of the image whether it be happy, sad, uncertain, confident, or scared.

This book reminds us how precious life is and that our time is fleeting. A generation called the greatest is rapidly leaving us. It will be left for us, the living, to remember them. With this slim volume, Bob Grenier has provided us a way to remember the men and women who helped stop Axis forces and allow the American way of life to continue. One cannot finish this volume and not be moved. Highly recommended.

**For full disclosure: Mr. Grenier is a friend of mine, and this book is published by the same publisher I am published by. I did however purchase my copy of his book at full retail price, and Mr. Grenier has in no way asked for me to write a review. The review is based upon my own reading and viewing of the book.

If you enjoyed Bob’s look at World War II veterans, I recommend you find a copy of his similar book for Civil War veterans. This book covers both Union and Confederate soldiers and shows how the war and its aftermath played a considerable role in the future development of Central Florida.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click these links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission. This commission does not affect any price that you pay. All views and opinions provided are my own and are never influenced by affiliate programs or sponsors providing products.

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A History of the Monument of States in Kissimmee, Florida

Located just south of downtown Kissimmee, near the intersection of Lakeview Drive and Monument Avenue visitors will find the Monument of States.

The Monument of States was the brainchild of Dr. Charles W. Bressler-Pettis. As Joy Dickinson has written about Bressler-Pettis, “…one Central Floridian was galvanized to express the nation’s unity in a singular, towering vision: a monument in his winter home, Kissimmee, that would express the bond between states and continue to inspire tourists to stop, look up and wonder.” (Patriotism)

Monument of States

Monument of States in Kissimmee, FL

The Monument of States as it currently stands has several origin stories. Some claim it dates back to 1935 (Doctors Love) while most state that it was conceived in response to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. (National Register, Patriotism)

Dr. Charles W.  Bressler-Pettis was an active member of the Lions Club and Kissimmee All-States Tourist Club and in the early 1940s partnered with J. C. Fisher to design a monument as a symbol of American unity in a time of war.

Promotion for the monument began immediately. By the end of December 1941, an Honor Role of Cement Donors had been established. Here, individuals and businesses who supplied a bag of concrete were thanked for their contribution. A pamphlet was produced listing 507 concrete donors.  (National Register)

Honor Roll of Cement Donors dated December 21, 1941, just days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor

Groundbreaking occurred on January 11, 1942 with the cornerstone being set in place. Volunteer labor, much of it coming from the Kissimmee All States Tourist Club, kept the project in motion. Bressler-Pettis collected rocks from donors across the country for use in the monument. Bressler-Pettis also supplied many rocks from his own travels.  He wrote letters to state governors asking for representative rocks. President Franklin D. Roosevelt contributed a stone from his Hyde Park, New York residence.

Once complete, the monument consisted of more than 1,500 stones from the then 48 states and 21 countries. It contained 21 tiers and reached 50 feet tall. The eagle atop the monument has a wingspan of six-feet. The base of the monument measures sixteen square feet and the top tier is only  two and one half square feet. The foundation for the monument is three feet thick, twenty-two square feet, and weighs approximately 100,000 pounds. (National Register, Patriotism)

 

Senator Claude Pepper was on hand for the monument dedication
A time capsule was placed on the 50th anniversary of the monument dedication. It is to be opened on the 100th anniversary.

United States Senator Claude Pepper was on hand for the monument dedication on March 28, 1943. In the years since the monument has been the location of many ceremonies including a 50-year celebration on March 28, 1993 when officials placed a time capsule at the monument. The capsule will be opened on the 100th anniversary of the dedication.

Cultural Importance

The Monument of States represents a time in Florida tourism before the onslaught of theme parks and mass commercialization. The effort to create this monument brought together a community toward a common goal in a way that cartoon characters and comic book heroes never will.

For those interested in the significance of this monument to visitors, there are seemingly dozens of different postcard images of the Monument of States. This collection of images is important first, in placing the monument in time but also in documenting its early appearance. The diversity of images and the often handwritten messages sent home, show the impact the monument had on visitors. They felt this was an image worthy of sharing with the folks “back home.” In the era before social media, postcards were a convenient way of “tagging” where you were for your friends to follow.

In the years before Disney, those days of the road trip, Stuckey’s, “are we there yet,” and the roadside attraction, the Monument of States served as a tourist draw. In describing the monument and it’s relevance, the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form states, “It retains integrity of design, materials, workmanship, feeling and association with the early history and tourism efforts in Kissimmee, and continues to serve as a draw for both residents and visitors alike.” (National Register) The monument was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places in December 2015.

Dr. Charles W. Bressler-Pettis

Just who was Dr. Bressler-Pettis? Charles was born on February 12, 1889 in Grant City, Missouri to parents Manuel and Nellie A. Bressler. When or why Charles changed his surname to Bressler-Pettis is unknown. We do know that Pettis was his mother’s maiden name. The first known recorded use of this new name is on a 1922 passport application. (Osceola History)

Young Charles was encouraged to become a medical doctor. At the urging of his family, after graduating from the University of Missouri he attended Harvard Medical School, graduating in 1917 and served his internship in Boston.

During World War I Charles served in the British army medical corps before joining the United States army medical corps later in the fight. During the war Charles visited a wealthy uncle who was living in Nice, France at the time. After the war he returned to France where he became the personal physician for his uncle. Charles was to receive a large, lifetime income from the estate of his uncle.

After returning to the States, Charles met, and married, Laura Mead. After their January 1927 wedding they embarked on a long honeymoon, logging over 78,000 miles by automobile.

A plaque in honor of Charles Bressler-Pettis, the man behind the Monument of States

Charles suffered a fatal heart attack while already in the hospital, on May 12, 1954. It is often repeated that Bressler-Pettis’s ashes are buried at the Monument of States. There is some truth to this story. After Charles’s death, his wife made request of the Kissimmee City Commission to be allowed to inter Charles’ ashes at the base of the Monument of States; a request that was approved by special ordinance.  It appears however that Mrs. Bressler-Pettis may have reconsidered. The website, Findagrave, shows a listing for Charles W. Bressler-Pettis in Grant City Cemetery, in Grant City, Missouri, the city where Charles was born. (Findagrave, Osceola History) Both stories are true. I have found reference that part of his ashes were buried in each location. This seems like a reasonable answer based upon the City Commission going to the trouble of amending local ordinances. (Memorialogy, National Register)

A circa 1943 postcard image of the Monument of States. Image courtesy State Archives of Florida https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/332238
Postcard image circa 1950. Courtesy State Archives of Florida https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/31891
Photo image of the Monument of States 2017.
Even after completion donations of rocks kept arriving such as this from Disney Studio’s Gem and Mineral Society. Photo 2017

Sources:

“Doctors Love of Area Fueled Drive for Monument.” Orlando Sentinel. July 22, 1990.

Findagrave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/14214087/charles-w-bressler-pettis

Memorialogy. https://memorialogy.com/pages/entries/entries.php?post=n112

National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.

Osceola History. https://osceolahistory.org/charles-w-bressler-pettis-the-bearded-man/

“Patriotism After Pearl Harbor Fueled Creation…” Orlando Sentinel. December 12, 2021.

Sandler, Roberta. A Brief Guide to Florida’s Monuments and Memorials. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2008.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click these links and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission. This commission does not affect any price that you pay. All views and opinions provided are my own and are never influenced by affiliate programs or sponsors providing products.

 

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Bataan-Corregidor World War II Monument in Kissimmee, Florida

The fall of Bataan and Corregidor in the Philippine islands to Japanese forces were arguably the
worst defeats of United States forces during World War II.

General Douglas MacArthur. Photo courtesy Library of Congress

In VERY simplified form, General Douglas MacArthur and his troops in the Philippines were tasked with holding back the advancing Japanese Imperial Army. Their objective was to keep Japan out of the American territory of the Philippine Islands.

General MacArthur consolidated his troops on the Bataan Peninsula where a combined force of American and Filipino troops were able to hold back the onslaught of Japanese troops for three months, a crucial delay to the plans of Japanese leadership.

After escaping Corregidor during the night of March 12, 1942, General MacArthur later uttered his famous “I Shall Return” speech, a promise he made good on in 1944.

On April 9, 1942, Bataan fell. Major General Edward P. King surrendered the allied troops to Major General Kameichiro Nagano, beginning what would become a further nightmare for the already hungry and weary troops. The surrender of Bataan would lead to the surrender of Corregidor less than a month later.

A Map Showing the Route of the Bataan Death March

It was at this point, where Japanese soldiers ordered their prisoners into a series of marches that collectively are known as the Bataan Death March. This march was approximately 65 miles with little to no food and water.

Online sources vary as to the number of prisoners and to the number who perished. A good estimate as to the number of prisoners forced into the march is 75-80,000 combined U.S. and Philippine troops. Death estimates from the forced march and conditions at Camp O’Donnell range to as high as 20,000 soldiers.

The Monument

Fast forward to the 1990s in the city of Kissimmee, FL. In 1991, the city approved the project and dedicated a quarter acre plot at Monument Avenue and Lakeshore Boulevard for the erection of a memorial honoring those who served in the Philippines during World War II. The men who spearheaded the project were former Kissimmee City Commissioner Richard Herring and resident Menandro de Mesa who founded the Bataan-Corregidor Memorial Foundation. The Foundation set a goal of raising the roughly $125,000 needed for the creation and installation of the monument. The Osceola County Tourist Development Council contributed $10,000 toward the goal.

A Tribute to Courage
A Tribute to Courage

Sculptor Sandra Mueller Storm received the commission to create the haunting memorial. Storm is a renowned artist with multiple large commissions to her credit including “The Courage to Challenge” in Vierra, FL, “Called to Serve” in Hillsboro, KS, and “Melody of Arts” in Panama City, FL. Her work is featured in major collections throughout the country. In discussing her work she stated, “I think my major strength as a sculptor is the intensity of my involvement in what I create in bronze and the emotional impact my sculptures have on those who view them. Teaching sculpture for many years has also showed me how art can change lives, especially of children and the elderly.”

General Bruce Holloway who gave one of the speeches at the monument dedication. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force

On Saturday, May 20, 1995, a day in which Florida spring rains would not hold off, the city unveiled the life sized bronze statue to a crowd of several hundred. The program included a wreath laying, and keynote speeches from Philippine Brigadier General Tagumpay Nanadiego and retired United States General Bruce Holloway.

The statue features three figures huddled together showing the pain and desperation of the march. The scene depicts a Filipina woman offering care and water to two soldiers, one Filipino and the other American.

Dedication Plaque
Dedication Plaque for the Bataan-Corregidor Memorial at Lakefront Park in Kissimmee, FL

 

 

 

 

 

 

The text of the dedication plaque reads:

This monument is dedicated to the Americans and Filipinos who served in defense of democracy in the Philippines during World War II, especially in Bataan and Corregidor and on the infamous death march.

Photos of the monument

A View of the Full Monument
Detail of the Pain Soldiers and Civilians Felt
Anguish on the Face of a Filipina Woman Providing Water to Philippine and U.S. Soldiers
Pained Soldiers Who Were on the Bataan Death March Receiving Water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964

 

 

Resources

For those wanting to learn more about the Philippines in World War II there are many excellent resources to consider. I recommend taking a look at the titles below.

Bataan Death March A Survivors Account
The Bataan Death March: Life and Death in the Philippines During World War II

Triumph in the Philippines


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click these links and make a purchase, I may receive a small
commission. This commission does not affect any price that you pay. All views and opinions provided
are my own and are never influenced by affiliate programs or sponsors providing products.

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Eulogy Delivered at the Capitol During the State Funeral of General Eisenhower March 30, 1969

Richard Nixon eulogizes Dwight Eisenhower

On March 30, 1969 President Richard Nixon eulogized former president, and World War II hero, Dwight Eisenhower. The body of the former president lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda before being transported to its final resting place in Abilene, Kansas on April 2. The text of President Nixon’s eulogy is below.

Richard Nixon eulogizes Dwight Eisenhower
https://catalog.archives.gov/id/66394137 President Richard Nixon Speaking as Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower Lie in State in the Capitol Building Rotunda

Mrs. Eisenhower, Your Excellencies, friends of Dwight David Eisenhower in America and throughout the world:

We gather today in mourning, but also in gratitude.

We mourn Dwight Eisenhower’s death, but we are grateful for his life.

We gather, also, conscious of the fact that in paying tribute to Dwight Eisenhower, we celebrate greatness. When we think of his place in history, we think, inevitably, of the other giants of those days of World War II; and we think of the qualities of greatness and what his were that made his unique among all.

Once, perhaps without intending to do so, he, himself, put his finger on it. It was 1945, shortly after VE-Day, at a ceremony in London’s historic Guildhall. The triumphant Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe was officially given the Freedom of the City of London.

In an eloquent address that day, Dwight Eisenhower said: “I come from the heart of America.”

Perhaps no one sentence could better sum up what Dwight Eisenhower meant to a whole
generation of Americans. He did come from the heart of America, not only from its geographical
heart, but from its spiritual heart.

He exemplified what millions of parents hoped that their sons would be: strong and courageous and
honest and compassionate. And with his own great qualities of heart, he personified the best in
America.

It is, I think, a special tribute to Dwight Eisenhower that despite all of his honors, despite all of his
great deeds and his triumphs, we find ourselves today thinking, first, not of his deeds but of his
character. It was the character of the man, not what he did, but what he was that so captured the
trust and faith and affection of his own people and of the people of the world.

Dwight Eisenhower touched something fundamental in America which only a man of immense force
of mind and spirit could have brought so vibrantly alive. He was a product of America’s soil and of its
ideals, driven by a compulsion to do right and to do well; a man of deep faith who believed in God
and trusted in His will; a man who truly loved his country and for whom words like “freedom” and
“democracy” were not cliches, but they were living truths.

I know Mrs. Eisenhower would permit me to share with you the last words he spoke to her on the
day he died. He said: “I have always loved my wife. I have always loved my children. I have always
loved my grandchildren. And I have always loved my country.” That was Dwight Eisenhower.

He was a man who gave enormously of himself. His way of relaxing from the intense pressures of
office or command was to do something else intensely, whether as a fierce competitor on the golf
course or executing one of those hauntingly beautiful paintings that he did with such meticulous
care. But even more than this, he gave enormously of himself to people. People loved Dwight
Eisenhower. But the other side of this coin was that he loved people.

He had the great leader’s capacity to bring out the best in people. He had the great humanist’s
capacity to inspire people, to cheer them, to give them lift.

I remember, for example, just a few months ago when I asked all of the members of the Cabinet to
go out and call on him. And each of them returned with wonder and admiration and said: “You know,
I went out there to cheer him up and instead I found he cheered me up.”

His great love of people was rooted in his faith. He had a deep faith in the goodness of God and in
the essential goodness of man as a creature of God.

This feeling toward people had another side. In the political world, strong passions are the norm and
all too often these turn toward personal vindictiveness. People often disagreed with Dwight
Eisenhower, but almost nobody ever hated him. And this, I think, was because he, himself, was a
man who did not know how to hate.

Oh, he could be aroused by a cause, but he could not hate a person. He could disagree strongly,
even passionately, but never personally.

When people disagreed with him, he never thought of them as enemies. He simply thought: “Well,
they don’t agree with me.”

I remember time after time, when critics of one sort or another were misrepresenting him or reviling
him, he would sit back in his chair and with that wonderful half-smile and half-frown, he would say: “I
am puzzled by those fellows.” And he was genuinely puzzled by frenzy and by hate. Because he
was incapable of it himself, he could never quite understand it in others.

The last time I saw him that was what he talked about. He was puzzled by the hatreds he had seen
in our times. And he said the thing the world needs most today is understanding, an ability to see the
other person’s point of view and not to hate him because he disagrees. That was Dwight
Eisenhower.

And yet, of course, he was more than all that. He had a side more evident to those of us who worked
with him than to the rest of the world. He was a strong man. He was shrewd. He was decisive.
Time and again I have seen him make decisions that probably made the difference between war and
peace for America and the world.

That was always when he was at his best. No matter how heated the arguments were, he was
always then the coolest man in the room.

Dwight Eisenhower was that rarest of men, an authentic hero.

Wars bring the names of many men into the headlines and of those some few become national or
even international heroes. But as the years then pass, their fame goes down.

But not so with Dwight Eisenhower. As the years passed, his stature grew: Commander of the
mightiest expeditionary force ever assembled, receiver of the surrender of the German Armies in
World War II, president of Columbia University, Supreme Commander of NATO, 34th President of
the United States. The honors, the offices were there in abundance. Every trust that the American
people had it in their power to bestow, he was given.

And, yet, he always retained a saving humility. His was the humility not of fear but of confidence. He
walked with the great of the world, and he knew that the great are human. His was the humility of
man before God and before the truth. His was the humility of a man too proud to be arrogant.

The pursuit of peace was uppermost in his mind when he ran for the Presidency. And it was
uppermost in his conduct of that office. And it is a tribute to his skill and determination that not since
the 1930’s has the Nation enjoyed so long a period of peace, both at home and abroad, as the one
that began in 1953 and continued through his Presidency.

As Commander of the mightiest allied force ever assembled, he was the right man at the right place
at the right time. And as President, once again he was the right man at the right place at the right
time.

He restored calm to a divided nation. He gave Americans a new measure of self-respect. He
invested his office with dignity and respect and trust. He made Americans proud of their President,
proud of their country, proud of themselves. And if we in America were proud of Dwight Eisenhower,
it was partly because he made us proud of America.

He came from the heart of America. And he gave expression to the heart of America, and he
touched the hearts of the world.

Many leaders are known and respected outside their own countries. Very few are loved outside their
own countries. Dwight Eisenhower was one of those few. He was probably loved by more people in
more parts of the world than any President America has ever had.

He captured the deepest feelings of free men everywhere. The principles he believed in, the ideals
he stood for, these were bigger than his own country.

Perhaps he himself put it best again in that Guildhall speech in 1945. He said then: “Kinship among
nations is not determined in such measurements as proximity, size and age. Rather, we should turn
to those inner things–call them what you will–I mean those intangibles that are the real treasures
free men possess.

“To preserve his freedom of worship, his equality before law, his liberty to speak and act as he sees
fit, subject only to provisions that he trespass not upon similar rights of others–a Londoner will fight.
So will a citizen of Abilene.

“When we consider these things, then the Valley of the Thames draws closer to the farms of Kansas
and the plains of Texas.”

Some men are considered great because they lead great armies or they lead powerful nations: For 8
years now, Dwight Eisenhower has neither commanded an army nor led a nation. And, yet, he
remained through his final days the world’s most admired and respected man–truly, the first citizen
of the world.

As we marvel at this, it leads us once again to ponder the mysteries of greatness. Dwight
Eisenhower’s greatness derived not from his office, but from his character, from a unique moral force
that transcended national boundaries, even as his own deep concern for humanity transcended
national boundaries.

His life reminds us that there is a moral force in this world more powerful than the might of arms or
the wealth of nations. This man who led the most powerful armies that the world has ever seen, this
man who led the most powerful nation in the world, this essentially good and gentle and kind man–
that moral force was his greatness.

For a quarter of a century to the very end of his life Dwight Eisenhower exercised a moral authority
without parallel in America and in the world. And America and the world are better because of it.

And so today we render our final salute. It is a fond salute to a man we loved and cherished. It is a
grateful salute to a man whose whole extraordinary life was consecrated to service. It is a profoundly
respectful salute to a man larger than life who by any standard was one of the giants of our time.

Each of us here will have a special memory of Dwight Eisenhower.

I can see him now standing erect, straight, proud, and tall 16 years ago as he took the oath of office
as the 34th President of the United States of America.

We salute Dwight David Eisenhower standing there in our memories, first in war, first in peace, and,
wherever freedom is cherished, first in the hearts of his fellow men.

You may read more about the various funeral processions and services that took place in honor of President Eisenhower through this link.

You may view a video of the Eisenhower funeral procession in Washington D. C. through this link.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click these links and make a purchase, I may receive a small
commission. This commission does not affect any price that you pay. All views and opinions provided
are my own and are never influenced by affiliate programs or sponsors providing products.