Volunteers remember heroes

Built of solid concrete in 1935-1936 and occupying an entire city block, the Fresno Memorial Building proved an imposing example of what is known as “Monumental Moderne with Art Deco details.” Considered outstanding for its time, this edifice with its dramatic exterior and entrance still remains impressive. It’s reported 5,000 people attended the building’s New Year’s Eve dedication where a 200-piece band played. The original auditorium and balcony could accommodate 3,500 people. In 1956 this site hosted the Democratic Presidential Convention. Film and entertainment celebrities often entertained.

But as the city of Fresno grew, additional venues for its various events and functions appeared and, inevitably, resources were needed for occupancy, maintenance and improvement of this building’s facilities. In 1992 the city granted the request of an association of American war veteran organizations to rename the building “The Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium.” Today it is known as the “Veterans Memorial Museum: Home of the Legion of Valor.” Museum admission is free and volunteers are on hand to assist visitors, show them the library and gift shop.

Support from the city of Fresno, and a staff of dedicated veteran volunteers, have made it possible for droves of visitors to see and learn about America’s military history; all these veterans deserve recognition for their past and present service. They, in turn, pay special tribute to two of the founders of the exhibits on display: Charles “Chuck” Monges who was director until his death in 2001 and Arthur J. Hill, the present CEO and director. Hill’s extraordinary energy and enthusiasm completely belie his 94 years when he talks about “this museum that honors all veterans and is dedicated to Americanism and education.”

As a result of working with the Fresno County Board of Education, Hill is especially pleased to see school children being awed by the contents of rooms and alcoves dedicated to particular periods and events in the nation’s military past and present. The museum becomes a classroom as young people talk with veterans and learn first hand stories of courage. Visitors see uniforms and headgear of all the services, displays of weaponry, artifacts, photos, plane and ship miniatures, and all types of memorabilia pertaining to Americans in the service of their country. Huge murals on the main room’s wall depict World War II history from Pearl Harbor’s bombing. They show other famous battle scenes in the Pacific, North Africa and Europe. School field trips, service club gatherings and induction ceremonies of new recruits into the armed forces take place here. It’s possible to wander for hours through the extensive space, looking at exhibits that go literally from floor to soaring ceiling. All the artifacts are donations from veterans or their families.

In 1890 a group of Civil War and Indian War Campaign veterans formed the Legion of Valor that immediately became an exclusive organization. It is one in which membership can never be obtained through birth, social position, political appointment, wealth, academic achievement or other means accessible through most structured associations. Those eligible must be recipients of the highest decorations for valor that are available in this country: the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross and the Air Force Cross.

Visitors to the Veterans Memorial Museum and Home of the Legion of Honor have no need to be reminded of Rudyard Kipling’s WWI poem, “Recessional.” Not just on Veterans Day or Memorial Day but on all days they remember these words: “Judge of the Nations, spare us yet, Lest we forget – lest we forget!”

Open Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-3 p.m., this free museum is located at 2425 Fresno Street, Fresno, CA 93721. The phone number is 559-498-0510 and the email address is lovmuseum@cs.com.