Raising the flag on Iwo, part two

Waynesboro man spearheads effort to breathe life into Marine Corps War Memorial

Story by Chris Graham
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It started, appropriately enough, with Jim Donovan’s concern over the tattered flag flying over the Marine Corps War Memorial. The effort to restore glory to the Old Glory looking down at the scene harkening back to the historic flag-raising on Iwo Jima in 1945 has since taken on a life of its own.

“We’re coming in to restore the Memorial, enhance Arlington Ridge Park and put an endowment program in place that will ensure that this will never happen again,” said Donovan, the Waynesboro resident who heads up the Marine Corps War Memorial Foundation, which is working with the Corps and with the National Park Service on a project to enact a series of improvements to the Northern Virginia memorial.

It all began rather innocently, with Donovan, a Marine Corps veteran, trying to get a photo during a visit to the Memorial in 2007. As he was framing his shot, he noticed that the flag at the Memorial was “faded and frayed,” he said.

That set the Marine on a mission to find out who was responsible for the Memorial, and after “getting the runaround” from the Marines and the Park Service, he was eventually able to land an audience with representatives of the Corps and the Park Service.

Donovan proposed a plan of action that would have a volunteer group providing flags to the Memorial, “and both the Marine Corps and the National Park Service liked the idea,” Donovan learned in the meeting of principals.

The plan was to provide a new flag every month. Marines and their families can sponsor the flags with the idea that the flags will be returned to them after they have flown over the Memorial for their month.

That was easy enough. Problem solved, move on, right? In the course of working out the details of the flag project, Donovan learned from talking with the Park Service about infrastructure issues at the Memorial.

The portajohns on site, for example, which had been in place for 25 years. “They’re unsightly. You can see them from the parade deck. But the National Park Service didn’t have the funding to put in a comfort station,” Donovan was told.

The more Donovan got into things, the more he found needed to be done, and couldn’t be done because of budget issues within the Park Service – the black panels surrounding the Memorial with the battle inscriptions, to name one thing, were slipping away; and then there are the battle inscriptions themselves, which haven’t been updated since 1994.

“He’s laid it out for you,” said Dottie Marshall, the NPS superintendent of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which includes jurisdiction over the Memorial. “There is no comfort station there. That’s an issue. And just the day-to-day maintenance – cleaning it, taking care of the vegetation, the walkways, the lighting. And we’d like to put in some additional signage to inform the public.

“Jim brings a good deal of energy to the project. Obviously he’s very passionate about caring for the Memorial. And since we’re charged with the stewardship of it, we’re certainly grateful that we have citizen-stewards that are willing to assist us in this,” Marshall said.

Donovan shrugs off the idea that he should be considered something special because he’s doing something special.

“We just decided to see how far we could carry things,” he said.

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