There are few military mottos more sacred than West Point’s “Duty, Honor, Country.”
Harve Bennett knew this when he and a group of veterans set out 10 years ago to beautify a little park at Wilshire and San Vicente boulevards in Westwood on the Veterans Affairs campus.
The producer of four “Star Trek” movies and TV’s “The Six-Million Dollar Man” dubbed his effort “Beauty, Honor, Country,” a play on the U.S. Military Academy’s motto. And when the little park was completed in March, the group decided to inscribe those words on a concrete wall at the entrance.
That’s when the trouble started.
Some veterans are now pressing to have the words removed, arguing that it’s a sacrilege to change “duty” to “beauty.”
“I took a look and I was stunned,” said Vietnam War veteran Bob Rosebrock, 64. “You don’t take such a code or creed and change it. You can’t rewrite history. That’s what’s so troubling, to have something like that” inscribed on military property.
Rosebrock is now leading a charge against the inscription, trying to enlist support from the American Legion and even West Point itself. He said a handful of veterans went on a covert mission recently, taping the letter “D” over the first three letters of “Beauty.” But it was removed.
“You would think they’d know better than to change the motto,” said Frank Duddleston, assistant adjunct to the Los Angeles County Council of the American Legion.
Over the years the West Point motto has become the ideal for selfless military service. It was the basis for a speech Gen. Douglas MacArthur gave before West Point cadets in 1962 that honored the sacrifice of the soldier.
Bennett, 75, a Korean War veteran, and the other builders of the park said they respected the motto but didn’t understand how anyone could find their play on words offensive.
He and the rest of the Veterans Park Conservancy board members, including a retired Air Force general and a retired Navy admiral, came up with the inscription idea when they began planning to beautify the VA campus a decade ago.
They collected enough money for the gateway project through funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as donations from philanthropists such as Eli Broad and Jerry Oppenheimer.
“Everyone thought it was terrific. The worst that could happen is someone thinking it were a bad pun,” Bennett said. “We’re not in the business of offending people. I would say this: We don’t regret it. It’s a clear statement of what we do -- beautify a national place of honor.”
The little park is meant to be the entrance to a proposed $7-million park on 16 acres with rolling meadows, walkways, fountains and various trees, birds and animals.
Veterans Affairs officials said they are pleased by the refurbished gateway park, with its wrought-iron gate flanked by concrete walls bearing inscriptions in gold-colored block letters.
One reads, “Los Angeles National Veterans Park,” the other, “Beauty Honor Country.”
“It looks so much better on that corner now,” said VA spokeswoman Beverly Fitzgerald. “There used to be chain link fence.... We’ve had no negative comments, just a lot of positive feedback.”
The inscription, however, is another story.
John Keaveney, a Vietnam War veteran who runs a home for 220 homeless veterans on the campus, said altering the motto symbolizes a larger problem he has with the park revitalization. He questions whether the $2.3 million spent on the gateway could have been put to better use helping disabled veterans.
“If I had called and asked for underwear and socks for Christmas, I bet we wouldn’t get a response,” Keaveney said. “They wouldn’t give us the time of day. A wall? A park? It’s a safe thing. But it’s not impacting veterans’ lives.”
Rosebrock said he hopes his lobbying will prompt officials to replace the current wording with the actual West Point motto.
“They need to read Gen. MacArthur’s speech,” he said. “There’s no room for negotiation on this one.”