Southern Pines May 30, 1945
By Ray Owen
Memorial Day 1945 marked an uneasy time in the life of Southern Pines. The war in Europe was over by three weeks, but the struggle in the Pacific raged on with no end in sight. Rows of crosses marked the fallen from the beaches of Normandy and across France into Germany, while the brave feared they would be going to the other side of the globe to continue the fight.
There was much in The Pilot about servicemen – some promoted or decorated, others dead and wounded – names familiar to everyone in the tiny town. Katharine Boyd was the publisher, succeeding her husband, James Boyd, who had died the year before. Both her sons were serving in the military and local casualties included her nephew, John Boyd.
On any given day people gathered in front of an honor roll tablet near the post office, reading the names or simply standing there – not close enough to read, but pausing for a moment just to reflect on a war involving more than 100 million people – the deadliest conflict in history.
Within this context, the Rotary Club unveiled plans early in the year for an elaborate athletic stadium to be built on the school grounds as a “living war memorial” to commemorate “boys and girls” from the Southern Pines who were serving their country. The school board approved the project and the Kiwanis Club endorsed it whole-heartedly.
They felt there could be no more fitting tribute than to provide a good place for future generations to play and learn the lessons of competition with others, and there was perhaps no greater need than an adequate playground for the youth.
This plan precipitated a lively community dialogue and Katharine Boyd captured the prevailing sentiment in a series of poignant editorials: “There is a certain appeal in ‘living memorials,’ each of them costly, far beyond what the town should spend now with the demands of the war, of the Red Cross and the starving Europe facing us.”
“It is a question if such town improvements are exactly what we want for a memorial. For, how long would the ‘memorial’ aspect endure? Anyone who has seen what a big stadium looks like after a big game cannot feel much drawn to the idea. There is a commercialism and lack of dignity about it that does not fit the picture.”
“A war memorial should be a living thing. It should honor our heroes and it should endeavor to cast their glory forward into the future. It should, therefore not be a static thing, but play an enduring part in the life of the town.”
“In so doing it personifies that stirring, deeply touching emotion felt only in times of deepest stress: the consciousness of the strong bonds between us. It must be our endeavor, when the shadow is lifted, to maintain that closeness and solidarity, that we may stand together in peace as we have in war.”
These heartfelt words resonated with the townsfolk and they united around a plan advanced by Boyd kinsman, A.B. Yeomans. He suggested planting dogwood trees in the downtown, saying “a simple and direct type of memorial is the best thing we could have.”
Of the plantings, Katharine Boyd remarked: “The history of the town will gradually grow up around this spot, so characteristic of our countryside. Its association will bring back to us this time and those who knew it and loved it as we do.”
The original dogwoods were dedicated as a Southern Pines World War II Memorial in 1945 to honor the brave women and men who serve our country, and the tradition has been sustained by the town with help from the Southern Pines Garden Club.