- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2011

Time and weather have conspired to etch cracks in its structure. The bronze patina that once shone a proud Marine Corps green has dulled to a dingy brown. Water damage has pried loose polished granite panels, and puddles gather at the base. In all — hardly the spit-and-polish shape one expects for a memorial to the most gung-ho branch of the military.

That’s no way to treat a monument honoring the vaunted tradition of the few and the proud, say members of the Marine Corps War Memorial Foundation, who are marshaling supporters for a face-lift on the iconic Iwo Jima war memorial in Arlington, Va.

A nonprofit “friends” group has formed to work with the National Park Service and Marine Corps representatives to raise funds to improve the grounds and monument, which was dedicated in 1954 and pays tribute to U.S. Marines who have died in defense of the country since 1775.

“What we are hoping to do is work together to raise the funds and awareness of the memorial and its American history,” said James Donovan, founder and executive director of the Marine Corps War Memorial Foundation, which is leading the preservation efforts.

Those efforts include a $450,000 museum-grade cleaning and wax sealing of the 32-foot bronze statue, which is based on the famed “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” photo taken Feb. 23, 1945, by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal.

“As far as updates, we haven’t kept pace with the times and its needs,” said Mr. Donovan, a former Marine corporal who served at the monument’s Silent Drill Platoon from 1964 to 1968.

His organization also is seeking replacement of portable toilets on the grounds, work on interior roadways at its Arlington Ridge setting, a reception and visitors center and improved landscaping. Such a preservation effort could take up to 15 years to complete.

The foundation has set up a website (http://iwoflags.org) outlining its work and how to contribute.

The memorial was designed by sculptor Felix de Weldon and features the sailors and Marines who hoisted a second flag over Mount Suribachi on the Pacific Island of Iwo Jima, a pivotal victory and one of the bloodiest battles in the World War II campaign against Japan.

About 27 Medals of Honor were awarded for heroism in the 36-day fight to capture the Japanese island. Adm. Chester W. Nimitz is quoted in an inscription at the memorial: “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

The National Park Service is responsible for upkeep and hopes to work with the Marine memorial foundation on the fundraising project. Jon James, deputy superintendent of the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the National Park Service spokesman for the project, said efforts and an agreement on the deal are in early stages with a memorandum of intent signed for the partnership. Mr. Donovan said the government hopes to have a final deal in place next month.

“It’s in a very conceptual stage at this point,” he said.

National Park Service conservators have inspected the memorial and recommended procedures for upkeep, he said. About $60,000 is spent annually to maintain the entire area, including the grounds, statue and monument. Proposals include a flagpole lift to assist the Marines who raise and take down the flag each day, as well as improving landscaping, replacing trees and refinishing gold-leaf gilding on certain areas.

Mr. James said he understood the drive to improve the monument in a place full of marble memorials honoring history and major American figures.

“It’s one of the most photographed vistas or scenic views in the U.S. — period,” he said.

Marine Col. Roarke Anderson, commanding officer of Headquarters and Service Battalion, Headquarters Marine Corps at Henderson Hall, said: “It’s one of the most recognizable features in D.C. People look at the Jefferson Memorial and wonder about it, but they look at the Marine Corps memorial and say, ‘Holy cow.’ It’s do or die, one of the most inspiring symbols of what the Marines are, a feeling that Marines have. And it serves as an enduring tribute to the Marines in times of war and peace.”

Every Tuesday during the summer, visitors to the memorial park are treated to sunset military parades, offering a place to reflect on the martial pomp and circumstance and the sacrifices Marines make to defend American values and way of life.

“It’s not just the drill team and drum and bugle corps. Just think about the view that you get,” Col. Anderson said of the park’s vista. “Looking at that monument, looking out over D.C., it’s all right there. If you are patriotic at all, it will put pangs in your heart.”

He applauded Mr. Donovan’s restoration efforts, saying the former Marine wants repairs to be made the right way.

“It’s not a memorial to glorify war. It’s a memorial to glorify the sacrifices that Marines have made over the years,” Col. Anderson said. “It’s a way to make sure that our history is going to continue for the next generation to see and be an inspiration for us as well.”