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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis delivers remarks at the dedication of the Major General Maurice Rose monument on Sunday, April 16, 2023, in Denver's Lincoln Veterans Memorial Park. (Kevin Simpson, The Colorado Sun)

Four years and a pandemic since the campaign to honor a local World War II hero often overlooked by history first revved into gear, a procession of vintage Army vehicles slow-rolled down Broadway on Sunday afternoon in downtown Denver toward the site where a majestic bronze statue of Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose awaited dedication.

Audra Rose Kight, the general’s granddaughter, rode in the front seat of one jeep, reflecting on the journey that culminated in memorializing a man she’d never met but whose loss was so painful that for a long time her family had difficulty talking about him. The first time she saw the statue, she said, she gazed into eyes she describes as “mesmerizing.”

“It was like meeting him,” she said, “like being face to face with my grandfather for the very first time.”

For Denver and Colorado, the monument also represents what many regard as a long-overdue introduction to a leader whose military career left a record of achievement and bravery that stretched across two world wars before his death at 45, just weeks before Germany’s defeat ended the European theater of World War II. 

His sculpture, similarly larger than life, now stands in the renamed Lincoln Veterans Memorial Park as a southern bookend opposite the statue of Pvt. Joe P. Martinez, erected on the north end of the Capitol grounds in 1988 to honor Colorado’s first Medal of Honor recipient from that conflict. 

A few hundred attendees, including retired and active military personnel, Gold Star families and a long list of donors and key behind-the-scenes supporters, met at the History Colorado Center for a short program before the two-block procession to the dedication. Under deep blue skies streaked with contrails from vintage aircraft, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis thanked the general and described the site as a “sacred space” to inspire visitors from across the country to embody Rose’s ideals of leadership, courage and patriotism.

“We dedicate this memorial as a reminder that our liberties and values are safe today because of the brave men and women like General Rose, who have made the ultimate sacrifice defending our nation,” he said. “We’re surrounded by the presence of those who have served our country, those who have sacrificed so much for the freedom we enjoy here on this day.”

Catherine Rose, left, Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose’s daughter-in-law, and Audra Rose Kight, his granddaughter, hold commemorative flags they were presented at the dedication of the statue honoring the general on Sunday, April 16, 2023, in Denver. (Kevin Simpson, The Colorado Sun)

A familiar name … but not

Although the Rose name has been familiar over decades in connection with the hospital that still anchors the same east Denver neighborhood where it was built more than 70 years ago, the city where he grew up has remained largely unaware of the full legacy of an Army two-star general instrumental in the final allied push to defeat Nazi Germany. He was both the highest ranking Jewish American officer at the time and the highest ranking officer to be killed in combat.

A fundraising effort driven by four primary benefactors — MDC/Richmond American Homes Foundation, Rose Medical Center, Rose Community Foundation and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck law firm — and many smaller donations eclipsed $800,000 to cover the cost of creating the statue, ensuring its maintenance and producing accompanying educational materials.

The idea for the statue took shape in February of 2019, when Paul Shamon, a Denver native and retired marketing executive, attended a lecture by Marshall Fogel, a retired Denver lawyer and biographer of Maurice Rose. Fogel has written two books on Rose, including a collection of narrative and documents titled, “Major General Maurice Rose: The Most Decorated Battletank Commander in U.S. Military History.” 

Impressed by what he learned at the lecture, Shamon contacted Fogel and suggested that the general’s legacy should be recognized in a significant way. That conversation launched a four-year effort to design, create and dedicate a statue, just as the country was confronting its often contentious relationship with historical markers, many of which — including one at Colorado’s Capitol — had sparked controversy and calls for removal or, at least, reinterpretation.

But Rose, it turned out, was one historical figure who inspired universal support. Still, the effort to authorize placement of the statue on Capitol grounds took more than two years before a legislative resolution provided the final go-ahead.

Loveland sculptor George Lundeen works on a small scale, preliminary version of a sculpture of World War II hero Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose in his studio on July 1, 2021. Once completed, the 10-foot-tall bronze statue will will be installed across the street from the Colorado State Capitol in Lincoln Veterans Memorial Park. (Valerie Mosley, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Shamon and Fogel enlisted Loveland sculptor George Lundeen, whose work appears in Colorado — the sculpture of Elray Jeppeson at Denver International Airport and “The Player” that stands outside Coors Field are two prominent examples — and across the country, to design and create the statue. Like many people, Lundeen had never heard of Maurice Rose. But he quickly became invested in the general’s story, and obsessed with faithfully reproducing every detail of his appearance and stature.

What separates this project from his others, Lundeen observed at the dedication, was that part of the audience for his work — the soldiers he encountered throughout the process, with some of them serving as models — were heroes in their own right whose service underscored the imperative to tell Rose’s story.

“As I worked on this,” Lundeen said, “so many vets came through the studio. Gen. Rose is a guy who never got the honor he was due.”

Though slowed by the pandemic and subsequent supply chain issues that made it difficult to obtain materials for the base, the statue recently made its way by truck from Loveland to Denver. Last month during a stretch of favorable weather a crane hoisted it into place just across 14th Avenue from the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, on a site conceived by Denver architect Seth Rosenman. 

Like so many others, Rosenman also was unfamiliar with Rose — even though he saw a primary care physician at Rose Medical Center for 25 years — until he got the call to design the sculpture’s pedestal and surrounding grounds, which feature engraved biographical highlights.

“When Paul Shamon called me in September of 2021 and asked for my help. I was immediately captivated by the general’s story — as everyone is,” Rosenman said. “I proceeded to read every book and article about him that I could find.”

Workers lower the sculpture of Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose onto its pedestal one a March day in Lincoln Veterans Memorial Park in Denver. The statue was officially dedicated Sunday. (Courtesy of Louetta Smith)

Roots in Denver’s Jewish community

Born in Connecticut just before the dawn of the 20th century, Rose — the son of a Polish immigrant rabbi — was 3 when his family moved to Denver. He dropped out of East High School to enlist in the military at 16, though he was discharged when authorities discovered he was underage. But Rose eventually re-upped. As a captain during World War I, he was wounded in action in France, but etched the first chapter of his legend by disappearing from the hospital. Presumed dead, he had actually returned to his unit.

Decades later, he re-enlisted to serve in World War II and became adept in the relatively new tactical arena of tank warfare, where he made his mark most famously with the 3rd Armored Division. The unit he nicknamed Spearhead knifed through France and Belgium at a torrid pace, including an unheard-of 100-mile surge in one day.

Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose, 45, was a World War II hero who was killed in Germany just weeks before the war ended. (Handout)

Rose died on the night of March 30, 1945, after the general and his driver — typically, for Rose, on the leading edge of a drive into enemy territory — got separated from supporting forces and were cornered by a German ambush. A Nazi soldier suddenly fired on Rose as he attempted to surrender, striking him twice in the head and killing him instantly. His helmet, pocked with two bullet holes, now rests in a military museum in Washington, D.C.

Though the sculpture of Rose leading his forces into battle provides a permanent memorial in Denver, he was buried at The Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten. 

His relatively low profile for such a high-ranking officer probably kept him from achieving the popularity of generals like Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton, but Rose was revered by the men who served under him. He climbed the ranks without a West Point pedigree to carve out a military career in which he earned a Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Stars, Bronze Stars along with the French Legion of Honor and both the French and Belgian Croix de Guerre.

Back in Denver, the city’s Jewish doctors had been planning for a new hospital at a time when segregation limited opportunities for minority physicians. In the wake of Rose’s death, the Jewish community in 1949 named its new facility General Rose Memorial Hospital.

A flyover of vintage World War II aircraft leaves contrails above the crowd at the dedication of a statue honoring Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose on Sunday at Lincoln Veterans Memorial Park in Denver. (Kevin Simpson, The Colorado Sun)

Still, most people knew little about Rose and his wartime heroics, and as decades passed the memory of his legacy receded. Shamon, inspired by Fogel’s advocacy for the general four years ago, sparked the movement to bring it back into the public eye.

Not only will the statue hold a place of prominence on the cityscape, but Rose’s story will continue to be passed down through an educational component that will introduce fourth-grade public school students to his significance through their required Colorado history curriculum. Many fourth-grade classes take field trips to the state Capitol building, and the statue will be one more stop on the tour.

For Fogel, the dedicated biographer, the dedication marked both an ending and a beginning.

“It’s closure for me,” he said after the dedication. “With researching and writing the book, I’ve been at this for close to 10 years. It meant a lot to me to have such a fine day to not only close a chapter but start a new one where people can appreciate all Gen. Rose has done for his country.” 

Shamon channeled the late former leader of the Grateful Dead when he considered how it feels to finally bring the project to completion.

“I think of Jerry Garcia’s quote about what a long, strange trip it’s been,” Shamon says. “That’s how I would describe it. I never expected it to be this long and somewhat difficult, but I feel very proud that it shows how one person can make a difference. 

“Now for generations people in Colorado will get to see the monument and learn about Gen. Rose. And his legacy will not be forgotten.”

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Kevin Simpson

Kevin Simpson

Kevin Simpson is a co-founder of The Colorado Sun and a general assignment writer and editor. He also oversees the Sun’s literary feature, SunLit, and the site’s cartoonists. A St. Louis native...