WELLSBURG -As she addressed the many gathered Sunday for the dedication of the Brooke County Veterans Memorial Park, Joan Nicholson of Wellsburg recalled how the idea was sparked by the death of her nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Michael J. Smith Jr., who was killed in in Iraq in 2004.
Nicholson was attending a community memorial service for Smith at the Wellsburg Town Square when Howard Armstrong spoke of honoring all Brooke County veterans and paying special tribute to those who lost their lives while serving at wartime.
Nicholson encouraged Armstrong to pursue that goal, offering to assist with fundraising. He then contacted Nancy Strope, who went on to lead a volunteer committee in organizing dinners, dances, bike runs and other events to raise funds for the project.
REMEMBERING — Beatrice McClain of Oakmont, Pa., grandmother of Army Sgt. C.J. McClain of Colliers, who was killed by an explosive while serving in Afghanistan, seeks the paver his family sponsored in his memory. The walkway between two key monuments at the park includes 267 pavers sponsored in honor or memory of loved ones. Before her is the granite wall on which the names of 186 veterans who died while serving and 27 prisoners of war are inscribed. McClain and Lance Cpl. Michael J. Smith Jr., a Wellsburg native killed in skirmish in Iraq, are the youngest fallen veterans memorialized by the monument. - Warren Scott
SPECIAL SCULPTURE — Marianne Smith, left, mother of Lance Cpl. Michael J. Smith Jr., who was killed in a skirmish in Afghanistan, and Alice Minto, his grandmother, study a cast bronze sculpture at the center of the Brooke County Veterans Memorial Park, which was inspired by Smith’s death. - Warren Scott
Nicholson said the park's completion shows, "If you have hope and faith and the will, you can move mountains."
Brooke County Prosecutor David B. Cross recalled the first meeting of the Brooke County Memorial Park Foundation where Armstrong, he and others recalled fallen veterans in their own lives.
Cross' father, also named David, was a ball turret gunner returning from a bombing mission over Germany when his plane went down over the English Channel. His father was 22 then and he was less than a year old, Cross recalled before addressing the many who turned out for the dedication.
Armstrong noted more than 60 area residents, organizations and businesses have pledged donations of $1,000 or more, and 267 have sponsored granite pavers for its walkway. Still many others have supported the park through other donations, and all are appreciated, he said.
The result of the group's work and extensive community support is a $171,180 memorial site overlooking the paddle boat pond at Brooke Hills Park and featuring several monuments:
A polished granite wall bearing the names of 186 local veterans who died while serving their country in military conflicts and 27 who were prisoners of war.
A 7-foot tall and 4-foot wide cast bronze statue designed by Canadian sculptor Tim Schmalz. On one side the wings of an eagle frame a scene of a soldier accepting a flower from a young girl, with many other service members behind him. In a telephone interview, Schmalz explained it was customary for the citizens of towns liberated by Allied troops during World War II to give flowers in appreciation, with a small child making the presentation. On the other side the wings of a dove frame a scene of tombstones representing military graves, an image of a peaceful European village behind them. A flower has been placed at one of the graves. Schmalz said the eagle is appropriate because it represents for Americans valor and national pride, while the dove is known by many as a symbol of peace.
A monument to Smith with his likeness taken from the last photo taken by his mother, Marianne Smith of Wintersville, before he was killed.
A stone recognizing sponsors of $1,000 or more and members of the foundation's board of trustees.
Ledgers representing Flanders Field and Arlington Cemetery. The two burial sites were suggested by foundation member Paul "Bud" Billiard, who said as the burial site of many Americans killed while defending France in World War I , Flanders Field symbolizes all American veterans buried abroad, while Arlington National Cemetery represents all those buried in the U.S.
Several cherry blossom trees line a cement stairway from a parking area above the park, and an asphalt road extends from the north end of that lot to the site.
Crews with Danny Hukill Contracting of Weirton built the steps, a walkway through the site and foundation under the supervision of Ernie Stucin and Charles "Poke" Beall, both members of the foundation. The business performed a significant amount of the work at no cost, said foundation leaders.
Local contractor Mark Van Horn recently finished laying the pavers, though the group is accepting sponsorships for another 230 to support the park's continued maintenance.
Brooke Hills park board President Walter Ferguson and his son Brian and grandson Jason installed lighting to highlight the park at night, while still more volunteers planted the trees and other landscaping.
The foundation recruited many local veterans for input in the park's design and assistance in identifying those who served. Among them was foundation board member John Chernenko, who was captured by the Germans after fighting in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. Because of illness, he was unable to attend but wanted to express appreciation on behalf of veterans and particularly POWs.
Many gathered at the site before the dedication to seek the names of family and friends on the wall or pavers.
Among them were Marianne Smith, Michael J. Smith's mother; and Alice Minto, his grandmother, both of Wintersville, and sister Alison of Beech Bottom. They were pleased by the monument to Michael and that the park has been completed after several years of effort.
"He was a great guy and my best friend. I miss him," said Alison.
Also on hand were Anita Hone of Weirton and Beatrice McClain of Oakmont, Pa., mother and grandmother, respectively, of Army Sgt. C.J. McClain, who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2006.
"This is wonderful. Any place and every place we need to recognize the boys who served," said McClain, whose own father was killed at the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.
Hone, who laid a wreath at the monument during the dedication, said, "He would be very impressed (by the park). He would have been standing here as proud as everyone. They did an absolutely beautiful job."
Also participating in the dedication were Billiard and Ferguson, who offered remarks; the Ohio Valley Veterans Memorial Squad and Tri-State Young Marines, who offered a military salute and raised the flags; the Gem City Brass ensemble, Brooke High School Choir members and Paul Grantonic, who provided music; the Revs. Rudy McAllister and Bryce Grieco, who offered prayers; and resident Greg Cheeks, who presented a compilation of veterans killed while serving at wartime.