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Frank Gray

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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
A memorial to GE workers who served in World War I was erected by fellow employees in 1924.

GE’s WWI memorial merits care

George Powell describes himself as a Marine combat veteran from the Vietnam War, and as such he tends to keep his eye on veterans memorials, saying he relates to them.

A few years ago, he made a fuss about a flag at a Vietnam Memorial at Johnny Appleseed Park that had been tattered for months despite his complaints. Flags are supposed to be replaced when they get tattered.

Apparently the pulley on the flagpole had gotten jammed, so replacing the flag involved finding the equipment to hoist a man to the top of the flagpole to replace the hardware, but Powell’s cry for action was heeded.

Now Powell has stumbled across another memorial he fears is endangered.

Near the main entrance to one of General Electric’s buildings, behind the tall iron fence on the west side of Broadway, is a memorial installed 84 years ago.

To the thousands of GE employees who over the decades have filed in and out of the gate there, the memorial might be well known, but to people driving up and down the street, the memorial isn’t immediately obvious, sitting perhaps 30 feet off the road.

The memorial, installed on Nov. 11, 1924, has hundreds of names on it, all GE employees who served in World War I. Included are the names of six GE employees who died in the war.

But Powell is worried. The old GE complex is largely empty today. What the future holds for the buildings is unclear. What if the building where the memorial sits were to be torn down? What would happen to the memorial, Powell asks?

Also, Powell is concerned about the condition of the memorial. Go to Washington, D.C., he says, and the plaques on the memorials there are all polished and shiny. They’re buffed up weekly by veterans. But that’s Washington, D.C.

It’s not the case for this one.

I looked at it, although at a distance through the fence. Yes, it has turned green. It has what is called a patina.

Perhaps, Powell said, arrangements could be made to allow a team of veterans onto the property to clean and buff the memorial. If it’s made of brass, a team, working for a few hours, could restore it to the same shiny finish as those found in D.C.

Overall, the memorial appears to be in good shape.

Matt Conkrite, a spokesman for GE, said he is familiar with the memorial. It once had a flagpole on the top, but that pole has been removed and a new flagpole installed next to it.

Whatever the memorial is made of, it’s pretty durable, Conkrite said.

No one knows what the future holds for the old GE buildings along Broadway, Conkrite said, “But I can’t imagine we can’t do something with it (the memorial).”

The company certainly wouldn’t tear it out and abandon it, he said.

In an interesting twist, General Electric says it’s willing to talk to Powell about letting him and perhaps a group of veteran volunteers clean up the memorial.

So Powell might just get his wish.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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