Pete Dugan 

Passion for Patriotism


- Dave French, Tech 1969


"I've put this program on for 42 years, and this is the largest crowd I've ever had," said Pete Dugan, a founder of the Veterans Plaza Memorial at Overton Park in Memphis, Tennessee.  These words were spoken on Sunday, December 7, 2008, on the 67th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that killed 2388 military personnel including 139 from Shelby County.  More than 200 veterans, families and spectators attended this event. 
Franklin Pete Dugan, 91, is a WWII Veteran and Tech High Graduate, Class of 1937.  I met Mr. Dugan this fall while visiting family, classmates and friends. 

 One afternoon I was near Overton Park and decided to visit the WWI Dough Boy Statue that I used to climb on.  To my surprise the entire area had changed from what I remembered as a child.  No longer could you drive past the statue since the road was now part of a 2-acre Military Memorial site dedicated to all Shelby County Veterans from all wars. 

 

Seeing an elderly gentleman at the site, I approached him, introduced myself and we immediately bonded into conversation.  Somewhere during our visit, Tech High School became a topic and I discovered Mr. Dugan was an alumni.  He told me he personally knew more than 30 of the over 100 Tech graduates that were killed in WWII.  He said a total of 1,525 soldiers from Shelby County have died in all wars beginning with WWI, including Iraq and Afghanistan. 

 

In 1998, Mr. Dugan began his quest to locate and honor the names of every Shelby County Soldier, Airman and Seaman killed in WWII, Korea and the first Iraq war.  Without the aid of a computer or Internet access, Mr. Dugan verified the names the old fashion way and with determination.  He made phone calls, reviewed public records, read old newspapers, contacted the Veterans Affairs in Tennessee and Washington, wrote letters, etc.  Because of his Passion for Patriotism, monuments stand today paying tribute to local heroes who died in each war of the 20th century, and now the 21st century with Iraq and Afghanistan.  In 2004, the City of Memphis honored Mr. Dugan with two plaques for his steadfast commitment to the cause in the creation of Veterans Plaza in Overton Park.                 

   
   

   

   


 

   

In 2004, Pete Dugan was awarded the Jefferson Award - for Public Service:

PETE DUGAN was honored with a 2004 Jefferson Award for his 55-year personal crusade to honor soldiers from Shelby County who lost their lives during World War II. Over the years, he has included the Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf Wars, and wars yet to come as part of his project.

 In 1999 Mayor Willie Herenton designated two acres of land in Overton Park for Veterans Plaza. Dugan, who served in the Navy during World War II, wanted more than that. He went to work to find funding to build a permanent memorial. This proved to be a daunting task. However, Duganís convictions were strong. Although most of the donations came in the $5 to $1000 range from senior citizens, many living in nursing homes, this volunteer did not give up. He realized cash donations were not going to be enough. That didnít stop Dugan. He just came up with another plan.

He began looking for people to donate materials and services. Then in 2000 the City Council approved $26,000 toward the WWII portion of the memorial. Although this nominee received a $20,000 challenge grant from FedEx, he couldnít raise the rest of the money before the deadline.

Did this guy quit? No. He worked harder. He bargained with the company that sold limestone walls and got them for a fraction of their cost. City workers dug the footings for the memorial. Two companies donated the concrete for the foundation. Another company donated the pipe. And it kept going like that.

Finally, just before Veterans Day in November 2001, the bronze WWII memorial to 866 city and county residents who died in the war was unveiled. By 2002 Dugan had raised enough donations for the Korean War and Vietnam War memorial. At 86 years of age, Dugan is still at it. The plaques now list more than 1,500 names of those who gave their lives for freedom.

 

 

 

Update:  About 6 months ago Pete had a fall - falling backward and hitting his head.  He has since lost his eye sight, but remains as upbeat as ever.

 

Pete Dugan is a WWII Veteran and Tech High Graduate, Class of 1937