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Kickoff nears for veterans memorial

Sunday afternoon marks the official launch for building a memorial site at Greenwood Cemetery in the coming year.

The kickoff ceremony starts at 1 p.m. and should run just over an hour.

Bernie Abrahamson, a veterans memorial project organizer, said people those attending should find the occasion compelling.

"It looks like it will be a lively, colorful and dramatic program," Abrahamson said. "It should get people's attention and, more important, some of the veterans' stories will be very meaningful. I expect the whole experience to be very emotional and moving."

The veterans memorial will be built on open green space at the front of Greenwood Cemetery. It will consist of various stone markers, flags, pathway, lights, rocks, flowers and commemorative pavers.

Mock-up, enlarged designs of the memorial are on display at local banks. Local architect Neil Anderson created the concept.

Among highlights for the 1 p.m. Sunday program, which also starts the fundraising drive, are:

  • Consecration of the memorial site by the Rev. Jerry Harris of St. Bridget Catholic Church.
  • A "combat flag drop and presentation" to local American Legion Commander Howie Nelson. Parachutist Kerry McCauley of Menomonie will land with the flag on the Greenwood School grounds.
  • Welcoming comments by local attorney and veteran Keith Rodli.
  • Veteran and project organizer Ed Miller's views on building the memorial.
  • A possible flyover of Navy planes
  • Playing of patriotic songs by the River Falls High School Band.
  • Reflective comments by a number of local veterans from World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and the mother of a wounded Iraq War veteran.

    Abrahamson said the memorial's construction is ready to go.

    "Soon after the kickoff ceremony, I would think dirt will be getting moved," he said.

    Abrahamson added that the construction site won't interfere with the annual Memorial Day event next month.

    The veterans memorial will rely on a key fundraising aspect: The selling of 8 x 20-inch granite pavers. These will line the pathway leading up to and around the memorial.

    The pavers, costing $350 apiece, allow for a three-line inscription that includes a veteran's name, service branch and years served.

    The pavers can represent a loved one or friend, living or dead, even someone who doesn't live in River Falls.

    They'll be sold at banks where the memorial design is displayed and during Sunday's program.

    "The pavers will defray the overall expense," Abrahamson said. "We would appreciate it if people would come forward to purchase these. That's primarily how the project will be financed."

    Abrahamson said the volunteer response for building the local veterans memorial has exceeded expectations.

    "We've been overwhelmed by the interest to participate, by veterans and non-veterans alike," he said. "There's been a high-degree of commitment. People are taking this seriously, and, as a result, we have a very good organization in place."

    In their own words

    Several combat veterans gave their accounts of service and why the proposed memorial is important.

    Bob Phillipps, World War II: "The veterans memorial will help people realize and remember what men and woman have done and are doing for the past and future of our country. The memorial will serve as a symbol to help keep our country safe and free."

    Arnold Roen, World War II: "I am aware of the sacrifices these young men and women of our armed forces are making, and it's very scary to think how they have left their loved ones back home to serve their country. Let's not ever forget these veterans who made these sacrifices to protect our freedoms."

    Chuck O'Connell, Korean War: "My brother Tom and I both served...I know firsthand from visiting him in the hospital after he was wound the tremendous sacrifices that are made by our servicemen. Therefore, I know how much this memorial is going to mean and what it will stand for in our community."

    Neil Anderson, Vietnam War: "This memorial belongs to everyone who believes in the unconditional commitment that has been given by the servicemen and women in this extended community.

    "There is nothing more precious than life itself, and we cannot forget those who have given their lives so that unknown others might benefit...Our community will now have a solemn place to publicly reflect upon how we live and lead our own lives."

    Ethel Johnson, mother of two severely wounded sons in Vietnam: "Although there were many tears shed and unimagined anxiety over not being able to see our son who was hospitalized in Japan, I was somehow able to cope with this situation as a result of prayers, support from family friends and colleagues.

    "I remained very occupied as a school teacher. Our situation was further complicated by having another son also serving...I am hopeful that future missions will be missions of peace."

    Karl Schotter, Iraq War: "I am very, very proud of our Guard troops. They are professional soldiers and highly qualified to be on active duty. They are knowledgeable and skilled because they are so well prepared.

    "I would have felt very comfortable and secure going back to Iraq with them. I feel very proud of what we accomplished."

    The following volunteers are working on subcommittees for the veterans memorial:

    Construction: Neil Anderson, Dennis Caliva, Louis Filkins, Susan Reese, John Schmenk, Paul Steiner and David Wagner.

    Fundraising: Mike Farley, George Field, Jerry Morrow, Don Page, David Reese and Chuck White.

    Public Relations: Rosanne Bump, Jerry Carter, Mel Germanson, Bill Montgomery, Liz Oostendorp, Lorin Sather, Kirby Symes and Dave Wood.

    Standing Committee: Bernie Abrahamson, Neil Anderson, Pete DeSanctis, Kent Forsland, Jeff McCardle, Ed Miller, Alison Page, Gary Rhode, Keith Rodli and Richard Wells.

    In case of bad weather, Sunday's Veterans Memorial Project program will move indoors across the street to the Greenwood Elementary School gym.

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