Memorial Day is when we pay tribute to all the brave servicemen and servicewomen who sacrificed their lives to protect our life and liberty here in the United States of America.
This Memorial Day, we want to highlight the Guthrie Tower and all of the combat veterans it honors.
Guthrie Tower, a 125’ clock tower with a Paccard bell 47-bell carillon, commands your attention when you walk on the Western Kentucky University campus.
Lowell Guthrie, a local businessman, was originally approached in the 1990’s by the WKU President about the donation of a carillon. After sitting on the idea for a while, he eventually he felt compelled to construct the tower and carillon as a memorial in honor his late brother, Sgt. 1st Class Robert ‘Bobby’ Guthrie and all other combat veterans.
While Lowell himself served our country in the U.S. Navy, he is not represented on the tower as “that honor is reserved for our combat veterans,” Guthrie said.
“Bobby was a boy who loved his country and dreamed of one day serving it,” Guthrie recalls affectionately. “He was a boy who often played soldiers in the woods behind our house. He earned his eagle scout at 15 and joined the Army at 17.” Sent to fight in the Korean war, Bobby never returned.
And so the idea of the Guthrie Memorial began to come together.
WKU gave Guthrie the reins in the memorial design. Feeling inspired to put together a memorial worthy of honoring these brave servicemen and women, Guthrie headed to Washington DC for ideas. As he visited memorial after memorial, he found pieces that spoke to him and the design took shape.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial
From the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial, Guthrie was inspired by the quotes engraved on the granite wall. With the collaboration of AJRC Architecture, they incorporated this idea, etching quotes into the granite benches around the courtyard of the memorial.
Included are quotes from Senator Mitch McConnell, Former President George W. Bush, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The advance of human freedom, the great achievement of our time and the great hope of every time, now depends on us . . . We will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail,”
– Former President George W. Bush, 9/20/2001.
“America’s strength is its diverse people, just institutions, shared values, and deep and abiding faith in God. No terrorist attack will ever extinguish the flames of freedom and democracy.”
– U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, 9/11/2001.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Korean War Veterans Memorial
From the Korean War Veterans Memorial, he was inspired by the more than 2,500 photographic images sandblasted into the wall, representing those who fought in the Korean war.
While Bobby served in the Korean war, he often sent letters home along with photographs of the soldiers and country. Guthrie has included these photographs, as well as photographs of other combat veterans, into the memorial. These images give you the “opportunity to look into the faces of those who’ve made sacrifices for our freedom.” said Brett Guthrie, a family member.
According to the WKU archives, some of the servicemen and women that are depicted on the tower include “WKU alumni Bob Ward, retired WKU professor who served in the Korean War; Bob Kirby who served in the Korean War; Dero Downing, WKU President emeritus who served in World War II; and Wendell Strode who served in Vietnam.”
Guthrie Bell Tower Features
The Guthrie Tower is a 125′ tower featuring clock faces on all four sides, and a Paccard Bell 47-bell carillon weighing in at 25,000 pounds. The largest bell is 59 inches in diameter and weighs a massive 4630 pounds.
Etched into the bells are the names of all of Guthrie’s family members along with the names of the members of the Alabama National Guard with whom Bobby served.
Guthrie recalls one soldier who was there for the dedication in 2006, “with tears in his eyes, he thanked me and said that no one had remembered them like this before.”
And there, beyond the tower in the open space of the courtyard, stands a bronze sculpture of Bobby.
When we hear these tower bells ring this Memorial Day, we’ll be reminded that our freedom is not free.