- Associated Press - Friday, October 21, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Since the Alabama War Memorial was erected nearly 50 years ago, the garden, marble monuments and the adjacent memorial building have remained virtually untouched - except by vandals.

That is a disservice Greg Akers, the adjutant for the Montgomery American Legion chapter, is in the middle of rectifying.

About $180,000 worth of renovations has already been completed to replace a leaky roof, hazardous electrical wiring, a faulty heating and cooling system, an antiquated phone system, and to install a security system within the main building of the memorial. The main area houses tributes to all of Alabama’s Medal of Honor recipients and acts as the veterans’ American Legion headquarters.

There is still much work to be done.

Appointed as adjutant two years ago, Akers‘ first order of business was to restore the memorial back to its former glory, before vandals in the 1980s stole and broke much of the lighting and marble from the outside monuments. With their dwindling membership and funds, the legion had to focus its priorities and the upkeep of the memorial was forgotten.

“Once the wars of Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan hit, we just focused on taking care of our veterans coming back home,” Akers said. “We neglected the memorial. We failed.”

His hope is that the renovations will re-ignite interest in the memorial for guests to visit and get it back on the city tour for students. Right now, it is outdated and tucked out of sight. While the glassed entryway is well-lit, open and modern, just around the corner, heavy tan curtains line the walls and an exhibit’s yellowed shag rug reveal the memorial’s true age.

Akers wants all that replaced and modernized with a flat-screen TV hanging on painted drywall that can display murals made by local students. Another wall will have a permanent painted mural showing one long battlefield with soldiers from each of America’s wars running across. A chair lift will also be added for handicapped accessibility.

Additional displays will showcase items that are currently in storage and room will be made to include two more Medal of Honor recipients: Opelika’s Command Sgt. Major Bennie Adkins and Audie Leon Murphy, one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II.

Although Murphy was from Texas, Gov. George Wallace made him an honorary Alabamian for his efforts to aid the state in the war, thus allowing him a spot in the memorial.

Walking outside into the garden, the neglect is even more evident. What once were reflection pools are filled with dirt and sod, corners of marble are chipped and cracked - evidence of decades-long vandalism. Wiring that once shot a light through the top of the towering marble obelisk is in disarray. A 4-foot tall, black iron fence extends around the perimeter, broken and rusted and offers little security.

A towering obelisk stands at the front in front of an Alabama-shaped “pool.” Behind the tower are six shorter marble columns with vases that represent each war from the American Revolution to Vietnam. All weather worn. The fence will be the first to go. Next is restoring and cleaning each of the marble monuments, replacing the light and fixing the plumbing.

New marble columns will include room for the wars since, such as Desert Storm, Lebanon and Grenada and today’s conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. A memorial walk will replace the uneven sod with bricks that people can purchase to honor a fallen loved one or veteran.

The remaining work will cost $320,000. So far the American Legion has raised $20,000 through donations to complete the nearly half-million dollar project. Akers is looking to have everything completed by 2018 to mark the legion’s bicentennial anniversary and celebrate Alabama’s military history.

“There is a lot of history here in Alabama and this is the place to display it,” Akers said.


Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

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