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History - Rose Garden’s memorial explained

One of several monument standing in Bethlehem’s Rose Garden honors the young men and women of the Westside who served in World War II. You can find it along Eighth Avenue facing Nitschmann MS.

The movement to erect this particular memorial was started by the West Side Republican Club and the work was carried out by the Bethlehem West Side Plaque Committee, chaired by Frank A. Bilheimer.

Throughout 1944, the committee was active in developing interest in the project. They financed the memorial through public donations in a house-to-house canvass of the area and gathered names of the Westside’s armed forces members to be inscribed on the Roll of Honor.

The memorial listed over 1,400 names, but many others had entered the service after the list was compiled. The names were listed on a large wooden panel with the intention of replacing it with a more lasting memorial of bronze after the war was over.

The memorial and plaque were dedicated on Sunday, April 8, 1945 at 2:30 p.m.

Several hundred neighbors, friends, and relatives attended, as did servicemen on leave or furlough.

Despite bright April sunshine, the afternoon was marked by a solemn atmosphere.

The program began with the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” accompanied by the Municipal Band under direction of Joseph Ricapito. Father Madden, assistant rector at SS. Simon and Jude Church gave the invocation.

Bilheimer gave introductory marks, and then turned the program over to John H. Diefenderfer, master of ceremonies.

Mayor Robert Pfeifle commended the Westside residents for their fine work in erecting the plaque. Following the mayor, a flag-raising ceremony was presented by the Boy Scouts as the band played “To the Colors.”

The Rev. C. Eugene Blum of Bethany Reformed Church offered a prayer followed by a brief talk by Judge Harold Helfrich.

The principal speaker was Captain John R. Horsley, attached to the Pennsylvania State Guard. He graphically described the road taken by the Westside’s young servicemen and women, as well as the rest of America, in moving from peaceful non-intervention to becoming part of the world’s greatest battle machine.

“I am not concerned with the past,” said Horsley. “It is the present that is important and the future when the ideals for which these young men and women suffered and died will be realized.”

A basket of flowers was placed at the memorial by sisters Vera Pfeiffer and Cadet Nurse Betty I. Schaffer, in memory of their brother, PFC Donald R. Schaffer.

Pfc. Schaffer was the first Westside boy to die in World War II, on Nov. 10, 1942 during the North African invasion. Another brother was reported missing in action Dec. 10, 1944.

Pfeiffer said the flowers were not only for her brother, but for all the men and women in the service from the Westside. “Taps” was sounded and heads were bared during the touching tribute.

The memorial was designed by Andrew M. Litzenberger, a well-known architect and superintendent of buildings and grounds at Lehigh University, and city Councilman Ario Wear played a leading role in its construction.

Finally, Rabbi Morris Goldfarb pronounced the benediction, and the program closed with the playing of “America” by the Municipal Band.

By the early 1950s, following criticism of the original weather-worn wooden plaques’ appearance, funds were raised by the West Bethlehem Memorial Plaque Committee for its replacement.

The cost of the new memorial, made of bronze, was underwritten by the West Side Republican Club. The plaque, which remains to this day, contained no names, but instead the suitable inscription, “In honor of the men and women of West Bethlehem who served in World War II.”

It was unveiled, May 24, 1953 by Carrie Cope, Bethlehem, second vice president of the National Mothers of World War II.

World War II mothers purchased two cement flower urns to flank the memorial, and flowers were provided by the city. The Harry F.W. Johnson American Legion Post Band provided music during the program in which there were a number of speakers.

Please share your comments and memories by writing to bethlehemhistory@gmail.com

pressp photo by jason rehmThe West Bethlehem World War II memorial was unveiled and dedicated April 8, 1945 at the Rose Garden. The plaque is set in an artistic stone base with benches on either side and is capped with a cement eagle.