Indiana War Memorial

As you stand in the Indiana War Memorial Plaza, look north and south and take a moment to consider the vast scope of this area of remembrance. Although the plaza is now dedicated to all of Indiana’s veterans, it was initially designed specifically for the state’s World War I veterans and as the national headquarters for the American Legion. Anchoring the southern end of this green expanse in the heart of the city, is the Indiana World War Memorial, begun in 1926 and completed in 1965.

A Distinctive Purpose

World War I memorials often differed from earlier war statues and structures in a number of ways, but the most important difference is that rather than overtly displaying national triumph—such as with the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument (three blocks to the south)—World War I memorials also serve as places of collective mourning for soldiers killed on the modern industrial battlefield, especially for those with no known grave. The Great War made its generation struggle in new ways with the profound consequences of armed military conflict. It is also important to keep in mind that most Americans killed during World War I were buried in American cemeteries throughout Europe—visiting a loved one’s grave was impossible for many Americans—a key difference from the Civil War.

Why Indianapolis?

The Indiana World War Memorial is one of the only American World War I Memorials within the continental United States. Many others exist in Europe, but their existence is less widely known. The decision to base the memorial in Indianapolis stems from a desire to attract the American Legion, an organization of WWI veterans, to locate its headquarters outside of Washington, D.C. In addition, the memorial was meant from the outset to compete with European memorials. Local newspaper articles proclaimed that it vied with “the best” memorials in Europe and would only enhance Indianapolis’ reputation.

Memory, Meaning, and Contention

The war memorial’s opening in 1924 served as a battleground over the memory of World War I. This was a time of social upheaval; veterans were campaigning for promised benefits, and many Americans saw the war as a tragic waste. The memorial’s opening was an attempt by the American Legion to give a public image of national unity and meaning during a time when the very purpose of war was being questioned. Although this memorial offered a nationalist narrative in the wake of World War I, it also served a very real and emotional purpose for family members of those killed during their service overseas.

During the 1950s, the Indiana World War Memorial was the focus of several controversies regarding anti-communism. Most famous is the American Legion’s refusal to allow the Indiana Civil Liberties Union a meeting place within the memorial. Other points of friction included the presence of an anti-communism school within the memorial and whether or not World War II veterans should be included in the memorial’s scope.

Images

Indiana World War Memorial Today

Indiana World War Memorial Today

Looking south at the Indiana World War Memorial, the largest memorial in Indiana and one of the two largest World War I memorials in the United States. Indiana™s 210-foot monument was begun in 1926, the same year the similarly massive Liberty Memorial was completed in Kansas City, Missouri. Image courtesy Flickr user OZinOH used under Creative Commons license as described at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en | Creator: Flickr user OZinOH View File Details Page

Newspaper 1919

Newspaper 1919

The Indianapolis News, May 7th, 1919. This front-page headline celebrates the “welcome home” parade in Indianapolis in which thousands flocked to witness returning veterans marching through downtown Indianapolis. Image Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society. | Source: IHS Newspaper Collection, Indiana Historical Society | Creator: Indianapolis News View File Details Page

Victory Parade 1919

Victory Parade 1919

Close up of the parade mentioned in the Indianapolis News front page from May 7th, 1919. The Indiana Soldiers™ and Sailors™ Monument is in the background, as is a victory arch built for the occasion. Returning veterans hoped that their sacrifice would be acknowledged. Some formed the basis of the American Legion, which quickly became a powerful American veteran™s organization during the 1920s. Image Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

1928 View of World War Memorial

1928 View of World War Memorial

Pictured in 1928, the Indiana World War Memorial, was constructed of native Indiana limestone and designed to look like the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus in Turkey, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The memorial served as an imposing symbol of U.S. nationalism that was meant to give meaning to the sacrifice of World War I. Image Courtesy of W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society. | Source: W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society | Creator: W.H. Bass Photo Company View File Details Page

Indiana War Memorial Plaza

Indiana War Memorial Plaza

Stretching another three city blocks north of the memorial, the Indiana War Memorial Plaza includes an obelisk and fountain, the American Legion National Headquarters, and a cenotaph. The multi-columned Indianapolis Central Library (1917) is at the far north end of the plaza. Image Courtesy of W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society. | Source: W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society | Creator: W.H. Bass Photo Company View File Details Page

Indiana World War Memorial Aerial View West, 1953

Indiana World War Memorial Aerial View West, 1953

During the 1980s, the Indiana World War Memorial™s name was officially changed to the Indiana War Memorial after a long campaign by WWII and Vietnam veterans seeking official recognition. Beneath the monument is the Indiana War Memorial Museum which covers Hoosiers™ involvement in all of the country™s wars. Image Courtesy of W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society. | Source: W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society | Creator: W.H. Bass Photo Company View File Details Page

Shrine Interior

Shrine Interior

This interior view of the shrine on the top floor emphasizes the memorial™s function as a place of collective mourning. The inscription reads “Valor is needed in peace to sustain the unending war for truth and beauty which enrich life while they fortify it against adversity.” Image by Flickr user Paul J. Everett used under Creative Commons license as described at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en. View File Details Page

Ceiling View of Shrine Today

Ceiling View of Shrine Today

This view of the shrine™s ceiling shows the combination of traditional religious design (stained glass) and classical columns. As a civic temple, the Indiana War Memorial™s design draws from Christian and non-Christian elements to make sense out of the chaos of modern warfare and to solemnly commemorate the dead. Image courtesy of Flickr user Paul J. Everett used under Creative Commons license as described at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Nicholas K. Johnson, “Indiana War Memorial,” Discover Indiana, accessed April 24, 2017, http://indyhist.iupui.edu/items/show/25.
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