The Veterans Memorial in Atascadero, located at the corner of Morro Rd. (HWY 41) and Portola, marks its first year this Sunday. Kim Noyes, a seventeen year Atascadero resident, documented dedication day with a series of photographs. You can see them at Eclectic Arcania.  If you go there, you can also read his opinion that the memorial is "one of the few things this stupid town has done right during the entire time I've lived here." Visitors to the memorial are greeted with the following.

The “Faces of Freedom
Veterans Memorial

Throughout history patriotic Americans have been drawn together to serve a cause greater than themselves. Some came because of common experiences. Most came because of common values. All came because they shared a dream.

The people who belong to the Atascadero Veterans Memorial Foundation are such a people. They believe that the true reflection of America is her ability to honor our Veterans of the past, who have given so much that all Americans might live free. They feel the memorial honors our military members serving today, as it represents those who stand guard between America and those who seek to destroy her. Finally, the Foundation believes the Memorial is about our future, as it will be used to teach our youth about our nation's core values and will serve as a symbol of our gratitude to those, who through their service and by their sacrifice, put their country first.

The reality of this Memorial and today's dedication is proof, that we as Americans will be forever proud of our Veterans. We honor them today, not only with words, but with this lasting tribute.

“All gave some....some gave all

Dedicated November 8, 2008

N.B. The tablet on which this is engraved is too wide to preserve the original line breaks and centering. Otherwise, I have transcribed it as accurately as possible.

If this rather amazing document appeared in the newspaper, we might suspect a bad day in the copy room. Deadlines can be rugged. If it appeared in a magazine or a book, the mistakes would be the responsibility of the editor who signed off on the text. But when chiseled and riddled with errors, if not the stonemason, who then do we blame?

Marble plaques are no longer chiseled for the most part. Computer assisted laser devices a lot like enormous desktop printers are used. Marble tablets are run under quick-moving plotters like thick slabs of paper. Nothing is done one letter at at time these days. Computer files, Word documents are fed in one end and memorial plaques come out the other. This has lead to an unfortunate wordiness and to a very unfortunate lack of editing. No one translates the message to stone, therefore the text goes from computer screen to stone in one fell swoop. Technology, rather than multiplying the possibility of getting things right, has almost prevented it.

The title of this plaque contains opening but no closing quotes, as if the secretary or foundation member typing it hadn't quite decided how much was quotable. An easy mistake, except it's repeated at the end ("All gave some....some gave all) where there are four periods in place of a comma and no period whatsoever at the end. A stonemason's arms would lock up solid before he permitted himself to do that.

Faces of Freedom, a statue with faces protruding from a flag, dominates the site. The words "Faces of Freedom" in large italic letters dominate the plinth. It was originally the Veterans Memorial, or the Atascadero Veterans Memorial, sometimes the Veterans War Memorial, but once the statue was in place, it's name or message somehow superseded the rest. The memorial has become the Atascadero "Faces of Freedom" Veterans Memorial. It has also appeared in all caps as THE ATASCADERO "FACES OF FREEDOM" VETERANS MEMORIAL, with quotes and italics, and THE thrown in for good measure. Fortunately, the site that provided us with that is no longer in existence. The convention for titles of statues is to use italics and title case. There is a tendency, however, among people who don't quite understand them, to use quotation marks for "emphasis". If I had to guess, I'd say that's what's going on here. They want to emphasize that Faces of Freedom is the title. Only, it's the title of the statue, not the memorial.

There's a comma after "those" that belongs after "who" and an unnecessary comma after the word "proof". The words "veterans", "memorial" and "foundation" need not be capitalized when used by themselves. Perhaps you can find more.

But the message itself, if one can decipher it, is far worse than mere details. "Throughout history patriotic Americans have been drawn together to serve a cause greater than themselves." The Renaissance was a memorable period in history. Were patriotic Americans drawn together then? Did they mean to say American history? "Some came because of common experiences." So, did they come or were they drawn, or did they come because they were drawn? Experiences common to whom? Certainly, some of those who came or those who were drawn shared common experiences. But, which experiences were those? They went to high school, they were born in the United States… "Most came because of common values." So, common values are more pervasive than common experience. But, which values? American values? Were a portion anti-American? Were some gay or anti-Christian? "All came because they shared a common dream." And that dream, which expressed itself throughout history, I suppose, was…?

Here's the problem, and in my mind it's a big one. This introduction seeks to glorify not the dead, but the members of the Atascadero Veterans Memorial Foundation, the people who raised money and built the memorial. They are "such a people." A what? A people such as those drawn together? Are they really a people? Does this memorial memorialize them?

The next sentence shifts part way through from they to us, i.e. from they believe to our veterans. ("They believe that the true reflection of America is her ability to honor our Veterans of the past, who have given so much that all Americans might live free.") Unfortunately, either it's they believe and their or we believe and our. The problem, you see — it's what caused the shift — is that they really means we. It's not someone writing about the committee, it's the committee writing about itself. I think I'll skip the part about they who is we being the her who honors our veterans. It's just too complicated and confusing. America's "ability to honor" is her "true reflection". What could that possibly mean? If America were not able to honor it could not do so. If it were able to honor but chose not to, it would still be able, just not willing. So, the true reflection actually has nothing to do with ability and everything, it seems, to do with actually honoring. We're still at the entrance to the memorial, should we really be quibbling at this stage over semantics? In the same sentence we find "to honor our Veterans of the past" — a veteran is already of the past. You can't be only a present or a future veteran. So, the term "veterans of the past" implies veterans who no longer exist. Is this a distinction they want to make? Well, that's hard to tell. In the context of a war memorial, the words "who have given so much that all Americans might live free" sounds a lot like they're referring to the dead. But the next group in the sequence leading from past to future is "our military members serving today." Someone serving today might be the veteran of numerous wars, but would not be a veteran. Being on active duty precludes being a veteran. How this memorial "will teach our youth about our core values" is an utter mystery to me, so I'll stop here and leave the rest to you. I'll just add that something from the War on Terror has been swallowed whole, perhaps unknowingly. Our soldiers stand "between American and those who seek to destroy her." Do people break into banks to destroy money? Do they steal food just to throw it away? How did we arrive at the idea, how did we swallow it hook line and sinker, that our worst fear is those who seek to destroy us?

In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream a preposterous group of tradesmen rehearses and later performs a play within the play about Pyramus and Thisbe for the Duke's wedding celebration. If their names tell you anything, the players are Nick Bottom, weaver, Peter Quince, carpenter, Francis Flute, bellows-mender, Robin Starveling, tailor, Tom Snout, tinker, and Snug, the joiner. They display little knowledge and no imagination. They are uproariously funny, but only if you understand the issues and errors. They have an inflated notion of themselves and project onto the Duke and his entourage both immense refinement and utter stupidity. When they realize that Pyramus must "draw a sword to kill himself," they decide that "the ladies cannot abide" such a thing. They conclude, therefore, that the entire incident must be deleted from the play — like Amelia Earhart coming back at end to say, "Just kidding." Bottom, however, jumps in with a solution. "I have a device to make all well," he says.
Write me a prologue; and let the prologue seem to say, we will do no harm with our swords, and that Pyarmus is not killed, indeed; and, for the more better assurance, tell them that I, Pyramus, am not Pyramus, but Bottom the weaver: this will put them out of fear.
About the fearful prospect of a lion in the play, he adds,
Nay, you must name his name, and half his face must be seen through the lion's neck; and he himself must speak through, saying thus, or to the same defect, 'Ladies,' or 'Fair ladies,' 'I would wish you,' or, 'I would request you,' or, 'I would entreat you, not to fear not to tremble: my life for yours. If you think I come hither as a lion, it were pity of my life: no, I am no such thing: I am a man as other men are'; and there indeed let him name his name, and tell them plainly he is Snug the joiner.
It's a wonderful play, you should read it sometime. Or, read it again some winter night to remind yourself of summer's madness. When I remembered it recently, something came to me. The Atascadero Veteran's Memorial, about which I have shared only the prologue, seems very much like a tragic performance of the play within the play that is the comedy of Pyramus and Thisbe.