Memorial Plaza dedication held for veterans supporter

Ali Dade

The Harry W. Colmery Memorial Plaza dedication took place June 22.

Colmery was born in 1890 and became famous as an advocate for veterans after spending time serving in World War I and for his involvement in the American Legion.

He attended Oberlin College in Ohio and then law school at the University of Pittsburgh, earning his law degree in 1916. Colmery then moved to Utah where he was admitted to the bar in 1917. His career as a lawyer was disrupted in 1917 when he served in the first World War. During the time between the World Wars, he advocated for better treatment at Veterans’ Hospitals and allowed expansions of those hospital systems.

Most notably, Colmery is credited with writing the original draft of what became known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, or as it is more popularly known, the G.I. Bill of Rights.

Many supporters and speakers were present at the dedication and spoke highly of the work he did in support of U.S. troops.

“Mr. Colmery’s leadership was tireless and full of determination. All this was coupled with his deep devotion to the American Legion and our veterans, was singularly responsible for decades of our nation’s support of our veterans then and now,” said Eddie Shirron, a retired colonel in the U.S. Army.

“This landmark piece of legislation [the G.I. Bill of Rights] exists today with revisions and guarantees to ensure that our nation’s veterans receive the honor and support they so richly deserve,” said Shirron. “We all owe so much to this man who not only did the most to change for the better the lives of the veterans post-WW2, but created a lasting bill that has enhanced the veterans’ lives many, many years since.”

The G.I. Bill of Rights was a law that provided many benefits for returning World War II veterans (commonly known as G.I.s). These benefits included low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a business, cash payments of tuition to attend college, vocational education as well as one year of employment compensation.

“Harry Colmery represented the best of what it means to be an American Veteran, an engaged citizen, and a servant to others. He saw it as his personal duty to fulfill what we call in the American Legion as the individual obligation to fulfill community, state and nation needs,” said Dale Barnett, an American Legion National Commander, who worked personally with Colmery.

In addition to those speaking of Colmery’s professional life, his granddaughter, Mina Steen, was also present and spoke of the “kind and generous man” that she knew her grandfather as, adding touching stories of memories of family vacations and reunions with her grandfather.

“To me, he was not the ‘Distinguished Topekan’ that everyone else knew him as. To us, he was just grandpa, whose war stories we found boring,” Steen joked.

The bronze statue can be found in the 900 block of South Kansas Avenue, near the location of the State Capitol building. In addition to Colmery’s statue, two others can also be found depicting the struggles and dedication that returning veterans may relate to.