December 29, 2015
Memorial planned to honor the many
lives lost to German U-boats in WWII


A slice of local history that’s often overlooked is now on track to get the attention it deserves, thanks to the talents of a writer, an artist, and an informal conversation that has trickled into a community and even nationwide effort.

It started with Kevin Duffus, author of the book, "War Zone: World War II off the North Carolina Coast," which chronicles in vivid detail the unrelenting assault of the German U-Boats, lurking off the East Coast of the United States on Allied vessels that carried not only supplies but also passengers and merchant mariners.

The attacks, especially in the first six months of 1942, were mercilessly successful, and in this short span of time, nearly 5,000 non-combatants and civilians lost their lives – many off  “Torpedo Junction,” as the water off the Outer Banks became known.

Even now nearly 75 years later, many people remain unaware of this dark chapter in American history. These events have continued to receive little recognition, despite the fact that during this wave of attacks off the East Coast, more than twice the number of people who perished at Pearl Harbor lost their lives.

Duffus, a longtime advocate for a memorial for the victims of the German U-boats to put these events into perspective and in the public eye where he believes they belong, subsequently talked to artist Douglas Alvord, who was struck by the loss of innocent lives and the first inklings of the The Brave Never Die Memorial began to form.

The planned memorial is a vast undertaking by the 75-year-old Alvord.

A Washington, N.C., resident, Alvord  grew up in New Brunswick, Canada, and has been involved with nature, maritime history, and the sea all his life. He worked for many years in Boston and New York as an illustrator  and art director. His maritime interests led him to boatbuilding and an eventual move to Eastern North Carolina in 1993.

And over the last two decades Alvord has been actively involved in his new home, producing murals on the old New Bern waterfront, and, more recently, a mural reconstructing the era of sailing commerce of Washington on the Pamlico, 1880-1920.

But the new memorial project will arguably -- and literally -- be one of the biggest works he has ever done.

The proposed memorial will be a 25-foot long by 25-foot wide bronze sculpture, that’s precariously perched on a granite base. The sculpture will be of a lifeboat carrying a group of survivors, which seemingly teeters on the granite base in order to recreate the feeling of trying to tackle an approaching wave.

Alvord began sketching the idea in the summer of 2014 and is already in the process of creating the clay foundation which, when completed, will be taken apart so it can be turned into molds, then cast into the bronze finished product and put back together.

“I’m working with the clay right now, and when I envision the faces of the people in the boat, I am concentrating on the best way to honor and represent them,” says Alvord. “This is supposed to be real and inspirational and artistic – a true memorial.”

And though plans are in the works to have the work completed by 2017, which will be 75 years after the original tragic events, the road to get from idea to sculpture-in-progress wasn’t as simple as it initially seems.

One of the biggest decisions along the way was where to place the sculpture, and a number of ideas that focused on the Outer Banks were tossed around.

“We considered Manteo, and we even considered Hatteras Light,” says Alvord. But neither location seemed to fit.

Nevertheless, the sculpture, in Alvord's mind, always belonged somewhere on the Outer Banks.

“This is what ‘The Brave Never Dies’ is all about,” he says. “The dedication of the Outer Banks people who risked their own lives to go out and save these people – it became so much more than a monument to just that one moment in World War II. It was devastating what happened, but the real issue is that these were lives that were never acknowledged.”

It wasn’t until Alvord took an initial trip along Hatteras Island and eventually landed in the small village of Hatteras that he knew they had found the spot.

“My instincts told me that this was it,” he says. “It wasn’t just condos and restaurants, it was a real village. I grew up in a small fishing village, and this felt like home to me, and where the sculpture should be.

“I think that the area is still similar to the way life has always been there, and how it was 75 years ago.”

The location for the memorial will be in front of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, and this decision was further affirmed for Alvord after he talked with the local community members, both one-on-one and in anearly meeting on the project with the Hatteras Village Civic Association.

“I was amazed that people understood it right away. They accepted it, and said ‘Yes, this is something we have to have.’ I am so very grateful that reception was so warm since day one,” he says. “The people whose lives are most affected should be most involved. I wanted a working relationship with the island from the start.”

Alvord returned again in September and presented the model for the future memorial at the annual Day at the Docks celebration in the education tent, where the reception was equally enthusiastic.

“The reaction was almost universal, and it always came down to one word – ‘emotional,'” he says. “I was so grateful for the response, and I look forward to working with people on the island as we move towards this.”

The community support has been crucial to the success of this project, but it’s not the only source of assistance “The Brave Never Die” has garnered.

One of Alvord’s earliest supporters was U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., who gladly met with the artist in May and helped point him in the right direction for people to contact.

“He agreed that this is something that had to be done, and he helped me with how to make it happen right away,” says Alvord.

Jones has represented Dare County and northeast North Carolina for 20 years and is familiar with the German U-Boats and their devastating effect along the coast during World War II. He says it was his pleasure to assist with the project.

“When Douglas came to see me, I was impressed with his commitment to the history, and to the families of the Outer Banks,” says Jones. “The sacrifice made by the citizens of that area needs to be remembered and appreciated. This sculpture, when it’s completed, will help people remember.”

In addition, Joseph Schwarzer, director of the North Carolina Maritime Museum System, and the team at the museum were immediately responsive to putting the memorial in front of the museum and helping with fundraising and planning.

“Doug brought it to my attention and I was impressed with the concept, the intent, and, of course, Doug's expertise,” says Schwarzer. I referred it to the Museum support group, The Friends of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, and they enthusiastically endorsed the project, providing non-profit organizational support as a means for raising funds.”

Finally, with a $750,000 price tag to tackle, Alvord found a big boost in the form of the Navy League.

A large organization, but not well known among laymen, the Navy League boasts 2,500 members which include sailors, merchant mariners, and veterans.  Alvord talked with the presidents of both the North Carolina chapter in New Bern, Bob Gillham, and the president of the national chapter who hails from Charlotte. Both assured Alvord that, while they didn’t have $750,000 in funds to give him, their membership would answer the call.

“We at the Navy League are interested in getting out the word to the local community about this worthwhile project, and we hope it will inspire all Americans to remember those brave souls who helped save the merchant mariners who were adrift at sea during the early days of WWII as the result of German U-boat activity off the North Carolina coast,” says Gillham.  “It is right that we honor these brave Americans because ‘the brave never die.’”

The ball is rolling, and the pieces are falling into place, but more assistance is needed to make sure that this important memorial comes to fruition.

Potential benefactors can learn more about the project, and how the concept came to be, by visiting the recently launched website,, which was generously created for the project as a donation by local web designer Buddy Swain of Hatteras Designs.

Donors who contribute $500 or more will also receive a one-of-a-kind incentive – a signed and numbered print that depicts a small local vessel furiously rowing out into the ocean to save lives, which is a fitting work to coincide with the memorial.

And how else can supporters help, besides monetarily? By continuing the conversation, Alvord says.

“What I would like to have happen is to have a continuous dialogue with Hatteras residents, historical organizations, maritime people, and anyone with memories about this period,” he says. “Not just to me, but to each other about the whole experience. I think some very interesting history could come from that, and then everyone can have input as [the sculpture] comes along.”

Granted, there are plenty of challenges ahead. But, as of right now, despite the future obstacles and potential roadblocks, a crucial and almost forgotten part of history is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves.

A clay model of the Brave Never Die Memorial can be seen at The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum near the ferry docks in Hatteras village.  The museum winter hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

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