Eastside veterans’ memorial square a place of pride yet source of division over its official name
On a busy five-point intersection in Boyle Heights is a monolith honoring all Mexican Americans who fought in World War II. Nearby, across the street, a concrete monument reads “Morin Memorial Square.”
Since the late 1940s, the veterans’ memorial has been a symbol of pride for the Eastside community. Every year on the eve of Memorial Day, volunteers stand guard for 24 hours until the morning of the national holiday.
But for more than 10 years now, a bitter dispute has divided Latino war veterans over the memorial’s official name.
“It’s been an uphill battle,” said Vietnam veteran Eddie Morin, 75. “The whole campaign has left me weary and frustrated.”
Morin said that in July 1967, the city named the veterans’ memorial after his father, Raul Morin, a decorated veteran of World War II and author of “Among the Valiant,” a book about the contributions Mexican Americans in the military made during World War II and the Korean War.
But a group of veterans disagrees with Eddie Morin.
“Everyone has always known it as Mexican American All Wars Memorial,” said Tony Zapata, who is also a Vietnam veteran. “We shouldn’t name it for one person, it should be named for the men and women of Mexican descent who have died fighting for this country.”
The dispute over the name of the veterans’ memorial began over a decade ago when city officials proposed to create a traffic circle and revamp the veterans’ memorial. A small committee of Latino war veterans was formed to assist with the design and public meetings were held to discuss the project. Morin said he attended those meetings.
“They kept referring to it as ‘All Wars Memorial’ and I said it’s not called that,” he said. “I told them it’s called ‘Morin Memorial Square’ and they looked at me like I was crazy.”
At the next meeting, he said he showed up with a city proclamation that defined the area as “Morin Square Memorial,” but he said the group ignored him and moved forward to name it as “Mexican Americans All Wars Memorial.”
Morin claims the group plans to remove “Morin Memorial Square” from his father’s concrete monument. Zapata said that isn’t true.
The Los Angeles Department of Transportation did not respond to questions regarding engineering plans about the traffic circle but said the project started in September 2005 with $10.9 million in Proposition C funding, including 65% from Metro and a 35% match from the city.
Zapata said relocation fees are being allocated for the removal of a business before construction can begin.
Disputes over the name of the memorial have erupted over the years whenever the memorial has made news.
Morin said he has reached out to L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar in the past in hopes of resolving the issue.
“The veterans are ultimately going to decide what it’s going to be called,” said Rick Coca, communications director for Huizar. “If people want to call it something else they can, it’s in their right.”
Frustrated, Morin and his friends held a silent protest on Memorial Day in 2009, wearing T-shirts that said “Morin Memorial Square, Now and Forever.”
Many veterans say they were angered by the protest because it was disrespectful to the fallen soldiers they were trying to honor that day.
The event also turned physical when Morin went on stage and asked a field deputy with Huizar’s office to turn the microphone on so he could speak. When the official declined, Morin allegedly began to shove him, according to a written summary of the encounter by the field Deputy David Miranda.
Morin did not dispute the allegations.
The veterans’ memorial sits on kitty-corner from Evergreen Cemetery. It is made up of two traffic islands shaped like triangles that sit between Lorena and Indiana Streets. Splitting them apart is Cesar E. Chavez Avenue.
The memorial has been a gathering point for Memorial Day and is a reminder of Mexican Americans who fought in World War II.
More than 500,000 Latinos fought in the war, including 350,000 Mexican Americans, who have the highest percentage of Medal of Honor winners of any minority in the United States.
The memorial was also the location of the first Chicano Moratorium protest march against the Vietnam war in 1970.
Residents in the area said they’ve known about the memorial and its history and say some have known it not as the names that the Latino war veterans have mentioned, but as the “Five Points Memorial.”
Claudia Amaya, 36, who lives in Boyle Heights, said she doesn’t know the official name of the memorial but she hopes that the memorial continues to remain where it is.
“It’s important for my grandchildren to know about the history of our culture here,” she said. “It represents us.”
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