Monuments pay tribute to the fallen

War tributes can be found all over the Island; you just have to stop and look.

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A former Confederate soldier and a Vineyard newspaper publisher, Charles Strahan, commissioned this monument in Oak Bluffs. – Stacey Rupolo

 

Editor’s note: With the unofficial start of summer upon us, it’s worth noting the reason most of us will enjoy a holiday on Monday. Take time during your three-day weekend to check out some of these memorials scattered across the Vineyard.

 

There are monuments that are hard to miss, like the Civil War statues in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, and there are others that are tucked away in harder-to-find spots.

Not all deaths during wartime happen on the battlefield, but the deaths of young men and women killed at training sites are no less tragic. At the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, there is a monument to Richard J. Holden and William T. Ping, two members of the U.S. Navy who were killed during World War II. At the time, the land where the airport now operates was used as a Naval Air Station.

The memorial, which is next to a path from the parking lot into the Plane View restaurant, might go unnoticed but for the two American flags that are planted on either side of the boulder to which the plaque is fastened. It’s located within a few feet of a new maintenance and fire fighting building under construction at the airport.

There’s no mention of what happened to the two men on the plaque, just that they “died in service of their country here on January 17, 1944.”

There is a clue about who is behind it in the 2004 obituary for Edward Krikorian that appeared in The Times. “Eddie was responsible for the plaque installed at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport commemorating Richard Holden and William Ping, who lost their lives while serving their country in 1944,” according to the write-up.

Mr. Krikorian’s own family didn’t even know the story for decades.

“It wasn’t until about 10 years before he died,” Lynne Watkins, Mr. Krikorian’s daughter, said. “He was a very humble guy.”

Mr. Holden, a watertender third class, had volunteered that day to go into a fuel tank with another man to measure it. The tank was chest-deep with gasoline, and Mr. Holden was overcome by the fumes. Mr. Ping, a signalman second class, attempted to go in and rescue him, and also died.

Mr. Krikorian was there that day, too, and went into the tank to pull his friend, Mr. Holden, out, but he was too late.

It was important to him that the two men be remembered, Ms. Watkins said.

She recalled her father telling the story, saying that the Navy claimed there was no gas in the tanks. Mr. Krikorian emerged from the tank soaking wet from the gasoline inside. “The Navy kind of shoved it under the rug,” she said. “He told us it was a long time before he could smell gas without getting sick.”

Small town, big presence

Up-Island, far away from the bustle of the Island’s commercial centers, outside Aquinnah Town Hall, there is another monument to war. Fastened to a large stone and with a thick patina, there is a plaque hailing the efforts of the town’s men during World War I. Like so many of the other war memorials that dot the landscape of the Island, it features an eagle with its wings spread and an ornate border that acts as a frame.

The memorial was presented to what was then Gay Head by Samuel W. McCall, the governor of Massachusetts from 1916 to 1919.

“It was dedicated to the town because Gay Head sent more men relative to the size of the population of the town than any other town in the commonwealth,” said Bow Van Riper, a research librarian at Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

A secondary memorial lists the names of the 23 men who went to war from Gay Head, and reads like a who’s who of modern-day Aquinnah, with names like Manning and Vanderhoop dominating the list.

“In recognition of its splendid service to the nation in the war for freedom by furnishing to the Army and Navy of the United States the largest number of men in proportion to its population of any town in New England,” the plaque reads.

In small letters at the bottom, it states, “Presented through the Boston Post, April 6, 1918.”

The tribute to World War I soldiers is not the only one off the beaten path.

There are memorials at the American Legion Post 257 in Tisbury, located across the street from Tisbury School. One, an anchor, pays tribute to the merchant marines who served during World War II. “With dedication they transported vital materials to the war fronts of the world and through their deeds and sacrifice contributed to the victory in Europe and the Pacific,” the inscription on the bronze plaque states. “These merchant marines are remembered with gratitude.”

You might miss it in the shadows of the 155mm field howitzer given to the Legion in memory of

Michael Fontes Jr., a World War II veteran.

It’s not a Confederate soldier

There’s a monument to war that nearly everyone sees, even if they don’t always take the time to view it up close. Commissioned by Charles Strahan, the former newspaper publisher’s memorial to the Civil War is hard to miss, located in Ocean Park across from the hub of summer ferries in and out of Oak Bluffs.

Though Mr. Strahan came to the Island to publish the Martha’s Vineyard Herald, he was a veteran of the Virginia Regiment, fought under General Robert E. Lee, and faced some backlash on the Island as a result of his Confederate past, according to a history of the monument written for the Intelligencer, a journal of the Dukes County Historical Society, which has since morphed into the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

Strahan’s monument, which he bankrolled by using the $2 charged for annual subscriptions to the Martha’s Vineyard Herald, was a nod “toward reconciliation,” Mr. Van Riper told The Times. “There was a time when it was painted gray, and tour guides and one author who should have known better used to claim that it’s the only Civil War memorial in the North that depicts a Confederate soldier,” he said.

Indeed, closer inspection shows that the belt buckle has the letters “U.S.” on it, demonstrating that it’s a Union-issued uniform. The monument was restored (losing the gray paint to avoid confusion) and rededicated in 2001.

“That this comes from one who once wore gray, I trust will add significance to the fact that we are once more a union of Americans,” Strahan said in a speech at the original dedication in 1891, according to the historical account.

There are four tablets on the statue, but one was left blank for more than 30 years. It now reads, “The chasm is closed. In memory of the restored union this tablet is dedicated by Union veterans of the Civil War and patriotic citizens of Martha’s Vineyard in honor of the Confederate soldiers.”

Plenty of tributes

There are other monuments on the Island honoring military veterans — some, like the ones outside the courthouse in Edgartown and the Civil War monument at the Triangle, are more prominent than others. There are roll calls of those who served in various wars engraved on memorials outside town halls in Chilmark and West Tisbury.

This coming weekend is the unofficial kickoff to the summer season, and there will be a lot of people walking or driving by many of these sites. With Monday being Memorial Day, a federal holiday set aside to honor those who lost their lives while serving in the armed services, it’s a good time to stop, take note of these monuments, and remember the sacrifices — it’s what people like Mr. Strahan and Mr. Krikorian intended.

“Those guys gave their life,” Ms. Watkins said of why her father insisted on a memorial at the airport. “He thought it should be there in memory of them.”