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.
"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.
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
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.
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.
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
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