Tuesday, November 21, 2017

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The SDSU War Memorial stands at the top of Aztec Green. The SDSU War Memorial stands at the top of Aztec Green.
 


Jagged Edges

The design of SDSU's War Memorial symbolizes lives tragically cut short.
By Tobin Vaughn
 

In the unseasonable heat of a mid-February morning, Katie Johnson sat studying in the comparatively cool shadows of a west-side terrace at SDSU’s Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union. Although the master’s-level psychology student clicked away at her laptop barely 30 yards from the campus War Memorial, she said she had never noticed the three-sided monolith towering 25 feet above the vertex of Aztec Green.

“Most of my classes are across campus and I don’t really come over here that much,” she said, explaining her lack of acquaintance with the monument. “It kind of blends in with everything else.”

What were her thoughts after having her attention directed toward the sleek, sun-bathed obelisk with an abruptly truncated crown? "It looks nice because it's pretty clean-cut,” she observed, “but it doesn’t really evoke anything for me.

Might her feelings change, Johnson was asked, if she knew the memorial’s designer intentionally clipped the top of the monument in an uneven manner to create a jagged and violent-looking apex? What if she knew the artist had given the same unfinished appearance to the ends of the benches placed near the monument as a symbolic statement of lives abruptly ended, dreams unrealized and potential never to be fulfilled?

"Once you see that you say, ‘Oh, I see what he was trying to get at,' but I don't think I would have known that without being told," Johnson said. “I think it helps to have a description so you can better understand it.”

Missing pieces

The student’s reaction is typical of many on campus who visit the War Memorial and know what it is, but don’t necessarily appreciate all it represents. That’s why in January, almost 20 years after the monument’s dedication, a plaque was added at the base of the tower explaining the symbolism of its design.

It reads: This war memorial’s jagged edges symbolize the shattered lives of our Aztec heroes and classmates lost selflessly in service to our country. We salute and honor them.

"I think once you look at it and take in those two sentences, it rings true and explains any missing pieces that may have been in the beholder’s mind when observing the War Memorial," said SDSU Alumni War Memorial Committee Chairman Colonel Martin Wojtysiak, United States Air Force (retired). Committee members approved the installation of the plaque along with its wording.

Wojtysiak explained that War Memorial visitors seem to gain a greater aesthetic appreciation of the monument when they understand its design. He and other committee members believe the plaque will enhance the experience for anyone stopping to view it.

"We're very happy with the way it turned out,” he said, as is sculptor and former SDSU art instructor Jess Dominguez, the War Memorial’s designer. It was Dominguez who selected a material for the plaque to match the Sierra White granite of the original obelisk and trimmed it to complement the irregularly edged benches and capstone of the monument.

“If people didn't understand it, then this is good,” he said of the new explanatory plaque. “The more people who understand what it's about, the better. I think it looks great and it's going to serve the purpose. I'm curious to see what people have to say about it, too."

Since 1996, the monument has stood as a tribute to Aztecs who lost their lives in service to their country during World War II, Korea and Vietnam. In recent years, the names of Aztecs killed in Iraq and Afghanistan have also been added to the War Memorial, which memorializes 232 fallen Aztecs.