REMEMBERING SOLDIERS PAST AND PRESENT
It all started in 1936, when the Captain W.M. Hendricks Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution donated a bronze World War I statue for a plot of land across from the Harding Memorial. Resting atop a 35-ton boulder, The Spirit of the American Doughboy was dedicated to honor those in Marion who served in World War I. In 1982, 46 years after that dedication, 7.5 acres of land was donated by the City of Marion to the newly founded Veterans Memorial Park Association. Marion’s park is recognized as the first veterans’ memorial park in the nation and includes monuments recognizing every American conflict—from the Revolutionary War (1775-83) to the on-going Global War on Terrorism.
The Association made it their obligation to pay homage to the selfless acts of Marion citizens who fought—and are fighting today—for our freedom. Devotion quickly spread throughout Marion and, in turn, led to the next monument dedicated in the park, the Vietnam War Memorial. Over the next 10 years, the Veterans Memorial Park Association erected 12 more monuments, dedicating the Desert Storm/Gulf War Memorial—their 13th monument—on their 10 year anniversary.
“It was a project undertaken by the citizens of Marion simply in recognition and appreciation of all men and women whose faith in America and belief in freedom fortified this country through 200 years of military challenges,” said Mike Harris, president of the Veterans Memorial Park Association. “Set in a beautifully landscaped site, Veterans Memorial Park offers visitors a pleasant opportunity to learn and gain a better understanding of our history.”
The Revolutionary War monument is the largest in the Park and includes a cluster of 13 obelisks, one for each of the original American colonies. Also included are historical monuments commemorating military involvement in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War (1846-48), the Civil War (1861-65), and the Spanish American War (1898).
Among the monuments, the Honor Roll Memorial stands in the most prominent location of the park. It recognizes all of Marion County’s service people who died during war years and was recently updated by Harris with newly donated plaques.
Monuments to more contemporary conflicts include the Korean War (1950-53), Vietnam War (1955-75), the Persian Gulf War/Operation Desert Storm (1990-91), and the Global War on Terrorism, which was declared in 2001 after the September 11th attacks. The Global War monument was designed by SSgt. Dan Damron of Marion and features twin towers on top of a globe with the American flag waving in the background. All branches of the armed forces are honored, along with both service metals.
Unique—even among a park full of monuments—is the Freedom Tree, a red oak, honoring Marion native and Navy pilot, Captain Bruce Nystrom, and all American prisoners of war and those missing in action. The POW/MIA Eternal Light includes a floor light which shines in remembrance of Marion’s soldiers that have gone missing or were taken prisoner during war.
Adding to the park’s uniqueness is one of the first monuments for women who served in and with the armed forces. It was designed locally by three of the Association’s female members and dedicated in 1985.
The Freedom Shrine, another first, is an outdoor display of 30 historical documents of American history under glass. It was built in 1987 by the Exchange Club of Marion and GTE.
Beyond the monuments themselves, the Park landscaping is maintained by the Association, including benches, flag poles, trees, and flowers. According to Harris, the Association’s goals for the coming year include refurbishing of the original Doughboy statue, improving the handicapped ramps with handrails, repair of the concrete stars that are the flagpole bases, and a new monument to recognize the contribution of combat service animals.
“There is love and pride built into this Park,” said Harris. “All of the monuments have been paid for by private donations and lots of help from local service clubs and veterans’ organizations.”
Marion’s Veterans Memorial Park exists, according to Harris, to honor all veterans, past and present, for their service, their sacrifice, and their love of country.
Additional information on the Veterans Memorial Park Association is available by contacting Harris at 740-262-1707. The Association officers also include John Simpkins, Wendy Anders, and Bruce Lehman.