Bulging with pride

The Battle of the Bulge Association is working on a memorial for the historic battle.

Mike Ciquero points to an older photo of local Battle of the Bulge veterans.

After South Philly native Sir Stanley Wojtusik passed away in 2015, members of the Battle of the Bulge Association worried any plans for a battle memorial in the city went with him. Jon Peterson, CEO of American Legion Post 405, the Benjamin Franklin Post, attended the local Delaware Valley chapter meeting on Wednesday, March 29 at the U.S. Coast Guard Station, Columbus Boulevard and Washington Avenue, to share project updates.

In a presentation to about 15 association members, Peterson explained the project Wojtusik first proposed almost a decade ago has finally taken its first major steps toward being constructed. Peterson said he first learned of the project years ago when Wojtusik gave a presentation on it to Post 405 at the Union League, and where he ultimately requested the American Legion help his organization make it a reality.

“We said, ‘Sure, we’d love to do what we can to get the monument established,’” Peterson said. “Since then, we’ve been caretaking some funds from the Battle of the Bulge Association for the monument, and as of January’s financial statement, we have $8,038.”

Since the beginning of the year, $3,333 has been added to the fund, and the American Legion will hold the money in its account with a separate line number until the monument is ready for construction to commence, according to Peterson.

The design that has been put forth for consideration is based on an actual photograph, and features a bronze soldier behind a blown out piece of wall with grenades and ammo pouches scattered behind him. The dimensions of the wall would be 12 feet wide and 12 feet high, with a five-foot wide base.

“I’m pretty proud of what the artist came up with,” Peterson said. “We put placemarks on layout for areas in which to put information. Certainly, there would be a story about what the Battle of the Bulge was, and what its significance is to a 15-year-old kid who’s on a field trip to the Franklin Institute.”

Peterson said the project could cost as much as $80,000. The total would include $24,000 for the cap, tablet base the rubble, $2,500 for the shipping of 19 tons of granite and $33,000 for the bronze statue and foxhole. Other costs would include plaque-work — which increases in price with images, pictures and engravings — and any other costs the city might incur preparing the site.

If necessary funds are secured, Peterson believes the city will donate the cost of the prep work for the site. Additionally, Battle of the Bulge Association member Mike Ciquero, a 90-year-old Rockledge resident and second-generation veteran along with his father and two brothers, is making maps of where members of the Delaware Valley, Lehigh Valley and Baltimore live, and will be selling them to gather additional funds for the monument.

“There’s so much history in the Battle of the Bulge, and its veterans are fading fast,” Ciquero said.

Ciquero wasn’t the only member of the association at the meeting to verbalize his wish to see the battle memorialized.

Alex Kane, a 97-year-old Kensington native, said he still remembers how horrible the battle was, but believes it is important for people to understand what he and his fellow servicemen experienced.

Over the years, he has developed many friendships with other members of the Battle of the Bulge Association, who, he said, also wish to see the memorial established. He called approximately 31 members the Tuesday before the meeting to remind them to attend and hear updates about the project’s future.

For the organization, one influential step in proceeding with the project has been gaining the involvement and support of City Council.

Previously, the Battle of the Bulge Association had been in contact with the only military veteran currently serving, Councilman David Oh. Councilman Al Taubenberger is now assisting with the project.

“We met with Councilman Al Taubenberger on March 16 to discuss Aviator Park and walked the ground,” Peterson said. “He is very excited and thinks it’s a great location [for the monument]. Aviator Park is right out the front door of the Franklin Institute, and is adjacent to Logan’s Circle.”

Aviator Park is home to a World War I monument highlighting veterans who were pilots, which is where it gets its name. It also contains the “All Wars Memorial To Colored Soldiers and Sailors,” honoring the service of African American soldiers up to World War I.

Peterson and Taubenberger saw the site as extremely fitting for a World War II memorial, especially when the war involved 16.2 million veterans. During the Battle of the Bulge, which took place from Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 25, 1945, approximately 20,000 soldiers were killed, according to the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge in Arlington, Virginia.

“There’s literally no dedicated monument to World War II in the City of Philadelphia, and yet our city gave more troops than many other areas of the country and they should be remembered,” said Gary Lambert, chapter president. “This chapter of the Battle of the Bulge Association was very active for several decades in putting monuments in every city around the country that had national conventions, but we never managed to have a convention here so we need to get a monument here.”

Peterson said he is waiting to hear back from City Council for word on final project approval. Once the city approves the project, construction can begin almost immediately and should take no more than a year to complete. For additional information on the memorial project, contact Peterson at editorpost405@gmail.com.