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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

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Photo: Sandy Huffaker Jr. Photo: Sandy Huffaker Jr.

Monumental Undertaking

An expansion of the SDSU War Memorial is planned for next year.

It took just a few minutes on a sun-drenched June morning to complete the mission undertaken by San Diego State University’s Student Veteran Organization (SVO) many months ago.

Past and current members of the SVO were on hand to witness the addition of two names to the 220 already etched in the granite monolith that honors SDSU’s fallen alumni. SVO students raised funds to have the names added.

One of the few free-standing structures of its kind on a college campus, the SDSU War Memorial was dedicated in 1996 to honor alumni who died in service during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

The addition of the names Eulis N. B. Wilkes Jr. (Vietnam) and Willis Preston Smith (Korea) this summer was approved by the Alumni Association’s War Memorial Committee based on research by SDSU librarian Robert Fikes Jr.

The librarian said he came across the names of both Smith and Wilkes “almost by accident” two years ago while looking through old newspaper articles. He managed to verify that neither man had graduated, but both had been students at San Diego State.

Fikes has also documented the deaths of SDSU students in recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their names will be engraved on an expansion of the monument, which has been funded by SDSU alumni Ed Blessing, '60, and Harry Hodgetts, '41, and President Stephen L. and Susan K. Weber.

The Veterans War Memorial Committee approached the designer of the original monument, emeritus professor of art Jesus Dominguez, to design plans for an expansion. Of Dominguez’s sketches, the most popular with committee members incorporates a half circle around the west side of the original granite monolith allowing for names to be inscribed on both sides.

“(The original) was the concept of shattered life and the new one is similar,” Dominguez explained. “The edges are rough and shattered, just like the top (of the original). Aesthetically, the expansion curves around because anything straight would have broken up the circle. This allows for a kind of natural movement of spectators around the monument.”

Plans for the expansion will be announced at the War Memorial service on Homecoming Weekend. Construction is expected to be completed by fall 2011.

SDSU is currently fundraising for an interactive kiosk at the memorial that will display Fikes' research on individual SDSU war veterans.