Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Memorial Day South Beach: Not Just About Booty
While everyone is talking about Urban Beach Week and how crazy it is, I haven't heard anyone mention the fact that there is a temporary war memorial in place at Lummus Park around 9th street and Ocean Drive. The memorial, set up by Veterans For Peace, flanks the eastern side of Ocean Drive and provides a sober and solemn reminder of the real reason for the holiday.
On one side, a bumper-to-bumper parade of tricked-out cars and a booty-to-booty display of flesh, while on the other, the make-shift tombstones of service men and women, carefully placed and marked by their surviving family members.
Now mind you, I'm not sayin' there's anything wrong with this celebration on South Beach -- I just want to point out what everyone seems to be overlooking.
Many of the tombstones mark identified fallen soldiers in their late teens and early twenties. A bereft father has turned his car into a moving memorial for his children. Amid the revelry on the streets, the contrast is shocking and heart breaking.
Yet a silent and invisible boundary seems to protect this tribute to veterans. "Everybody respects it," says Sam Feldman, president of Veterans for Peace's local chapter. "The place stays clean. This is the story that isn't told, but even here, there is respect for the memorial. We've been doing this for three years and only had two incidents."
It's actually fitting that a war memorial exist on Lummus Park. During World War II, South Beach turned from tourist town to military post. Homeowners donated iron gates from their homes for weapons manufacturing. All those quaint little art deco hotels on Ocean Drive became barracks. Mitchell Wolfson, South Beach's first Jewish mayor, served in Europe as a communications officer and came back to establish a media empire through Wometco Cinemas and South Florida's first TV station, WTVJ 4. South Beach's history is very much tied up with war, though luckily, it has never been fought on our shores.
It's not too late to check out the war memorial; it will be on display until Sunday, May 31st, after a service held at 5 PM on the same day. So if you didn't pay your respects this weekend because you were afraid of going to South Beach, next weekend, you have no excuse.
If you'd like to learn more, visit Veterans for Peace or email Sam Feldman at vetsforpeace [at] the-beach.net.