Take any object -- a house, office building, highway, bridge, car -- all will eventually fall apart if not properly maintained.
The same is true of war memorials, the monuments communities erect to honor their war dead and help tell the history of their hometowns.
Rep. Claudia Tenney has co-authored a bill she hopes will help communities preserve those sacred monuments so the legacies they are meant to honor live on well after we're all gone.
The Remembering Our Local Heroes Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Chris Pappas from New Hampshire, allocates $2 million a year over five years that will act as matching funds for community groups to mount efforts to preserve war memorials as well as monuments honoring those who served in law enforcement and fire services.
If a community group, such as a veterans group or a Boy Scout troop, can raise $10,000, for example, the group can apply for a grant of up to $20,000, which would result in a total of $30,000 for the project. If $150,000 is needed for the project, the group would need to raise $50,000. The maximum federal grant under the bill, which is still pending in committee, would be $100,000 per project.
"We really would love to be able to do this," Tenney said. "There are so many areas where you go to, especially throughout my district, where you see these beautiful old monuments, including your Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines Monument that you have here, the Upton Monument, that could definitely be upgraded and cleaned and maintained. A lot of these monuments really aren't being maintained, especially the monument for our heroes."
Tenney stopped in Batavia on Saturday to visit the Upton Monument and discuss her bill with The Batavian.
"This (bill) would allow the federal government to participate in helping maintain veterans memorials and remembering local heroes," Tenney said.
In order to unlock access to the federal grant, all of the money to preserve a monument would need to come from private donations. Local governments could not help fund the project.
The bill combines twin interests and passions for Tenney, recognizing the sacrifices of those who have served their nation and their communities, and history. During the interview, she talked a good deal about Upstate New York's rich history and its contributions to creating the nation during the Revolution, the abolitionists of New York who helped free the slaves, most notably with the Underground Railroad, but also leading figures Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman, and New York's efforts to preserve the union during the Civil War and its role in the War of 1812.
"I brought Burgess Owens (to New York), who is a Republican, former football player, a Black Republican, whose hero is Harriet Tubman, his whole life, and he never knew that Harriet Tubman had a house in Auburn," Tenney said. "So I brought him in, and we went everywhere. He was amazed. We did the full tour. We went to all the different sites. And he was like, 'Wow, I can't believe this.' You know, we have such a rich history."
The germ of the bill began when Tenney served in the New York State Legislature, and she learned that Vietnam Veterans often have a hard time unlocking support that's available to other veterans groups because of the lingering controversies of that war. During that time, she visited a group that wished to build a Vietnam memorial, but they couldn't access federal funds. When she was first elected to Congress, she introduced the first version of this bill designed to allow any community group that takes on the task of ensuring local heroes are appropriately honored to tap into a small pot of federal funds to assist the effort.
"We (New York) were critically important in all the wars, whether it's the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the War of 1812," Tenney said. "I think it's important that we know our history."
The Upton Monument was dedicated in August 1919 (see the 100th-anniversary documentary produced by The Batavian embedded below), with construction funded by donations and contributions from the city of Batavia and Genesee County. It was constructed by Wardon Monuments, a company that built monuments throughout the northeast, including Gettysburg, and had its headquarters on Evans Street in Batavia. Officially, it is the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines Monument, but it carries a bronze statue of Civil War hero Gen. Emory Upton, who was from Batavia.
At 105 years old, it shows some age -- discolored bronze and cracks in the stone, including a large chunk of granite missing from the base. There has been no known effort over the past several years -- and The Batavian has made inquiries -- among either private groups or the county government to take steps to ensure it is maintained and preserved.
That isn't unusual in her NY-24 district, Tenney indicated, because local governments are so cash-strapped these days.
On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Tenney said she often goes for a ride on her motorcycle through the district and will stop at various memorials along her route.
"I'll drive around to the monuments and just kind of place a little flag or just kind of see what condition they're in," Tenney said. "I did that a couple of years ago, I didn't last year, but I did that, and it was just really interesting to see how many people actually do care about what's in their community. But there's no money, and all these local governments are strapped with unfunded mandates from the state and all these other issues, so we have this as something that is supplemental."
When we remember our history, Tenney noted, it binds us to our community and it teaches our children the value of their community.
"If you don't remember the people who really founded your community, the principles that it was founded upon and that people actually served, died, sacrificed, lost life and limb, I think that really sends a message," Tenney said. "We want to send a message to our young people that their community is worth something and that they should be proud of their community, of the people that founded it."
Photos by Howard Owens.