Friday, March 6, 1998
One man refuses to forget GIs

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Old Glory, twisted and tangled in an adjoining tree, hangs from the staff atop the Mohawk Honor Roll - largely because one man cares so much.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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An old soldier I once knew would salute the ragged flag that's atop the war memorial in Mohawk.

Charles Barnett
But he'd have to know the whole story of why the flag he fought for in World War II clings by a single strand of wire to a rusty pole.

Sad to say, my dad's not around to hear the story. So, let me tell it to you.

The flag is faded and wound up tight because one person cares and too many others don't.

Tattered and torn, the flag doesn't really fly above the intersection of Ravine and West McMicken. It droops, tangled in the budding branches of a young silver maple tree.

Charles Barnett put the flag up there in December.

''Buddy, I tell you why I did it,'' said the 38-year-old, self-employed window washer. ''I hung it halfway down the pole right after those two cops got shot and killed.''

Officer Daniel Pope and Spc. Ronald Jeter lost their lives in December. This is March. The flag looks bad. Real bad.

''I know it does,'' Charles admitted. ''I've been busy and let the flag slide. There's no excuse. I'll have a new one up there in a couple days.''

Charles puts up new flags when he can. He's not rich. And flags don't come cheap. A good cloth one runs him $35. He goes through about three a year. What the weather doesn't get, neighborhood thieves do.

''I used to put the flag on a rope, so you could run it up and down the pole the proper way,'' Charles said. ''But the kids around here would steal the rope and the flag. So I started using wire and leaving the flag up all of the time.''

Charles Barnett is not a veteran. He doesn't do this to get any pats on the back. And, he's definitely not looking for any donations. ''You start accepting money from strangers and people think they can start telling you what to do.''

No one tells him what to do about the memorial. He owns it.

''Bought it from the city for a buck after no one had taken care of it for years,'' he said. ''It was all grown over with weeds and filled with junk, old tires, garbage and broken bottles from winos.''

He purchased the small triangular lot in 1988. ''I was tired of looking at the mess.'' Charles lives next door.

A block away, thousands of cars rush up and down Central Parkway every day. A scant few make the memorial their destination.

Even the tree was stolen

Anyone driving up Ravine Street next to the memorial has to floor it to reach the top of the hilly street. Anyone going down Ravine hopes the brakes work. So, it's not easy to take a close look at the squat brick-and-concrete pillar inscribed with these words: Mohawk Honor Roll.

''There's not much to see,'' Charles said.

The grass is cut and, judging from its bright green color, well-fertilized. The trees are pruned and mulched.

''I planted the maples,'' Charles said. As well as two soft-needle pines.

''There used to be three. But somebody cut one down last December. Probably used it for a Christmas tree.''

Five bronze plaques, taller than a man, used to be bolted to the memorial. The plaques contained the names of neighborhood men who went to war and came back. My dad's name, Clifford J. Radel, was there.

In uniform and with a duffel bag over his shoulder, he would walk down the hill, down Ravine Street, past the spot where the Mohawk Honor Roll now stands. To save money, he would walk the 2 miles to Union Terminal. From there he caught trains to Army camps, trains to New York and a ship to Europe.

My dad was one of the lucky ones. He came home.

Scores of men from that hillside community also helped win the war. Their efforts did not go unappreciated. In 1945, the Mohawk Businessmen's Association honored them by building the monument and placing the GIs' names on five plaques.

Today, those plaques and the nameplates are gone.

''Stolen,'' Charles said.

''Whenever the price of bronze would go up, more names would disappear.''

One piece of bronze remains. It rests on a separate pedestal facing the honor roll.

For the price of scrap metal

Charles has tried to keep this part of the monument looking particularly nice. He painted the pedestal with the same colors he used on his house, khaki with a purple trim. That highlights the bronze plaque and its list of 10 names.

''They gave their lives in World War II,'' the plaque reads. ''Rest to their ashes; Peace to their Souls.''

Maybe, I told Charles, no one took this plaque out of respect for the dead.

Charles told me to look closer.

''You can see the screwdriver marks where they tried to pry it off.''

That made me mad and sad. To think, these 10 men died so street punks could try to steal their names, some 50 years later, and sell them for the going rate of scrap metal.

But I could not hold that thought for long. I was talking with Charles Barnett.

People like him are the reason so many names made the Mohawk Honor Roll. These men fought on foreign battlefields, and some died, so ''a poor kid from the neighborhood'' could go to Hughes High School and grow up to start his own window-cleaning business.

And someday, after he bought a World War II memorial from a city that didn't care enough to maintain it, he would do his best, on his own, to honor the men who went to war.

For that, as the son of an old soldier, I salute him.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.