Granite name panels going up at memorial

Steve Fosness, left, a member of the Martin County Veterans Memorial committee, Tom Rau and John Zimmerman, top, of Avon, recently began installing engraved name panels at the veterans memorial site on Winnebago Avenue in Fairmont.

The first phase of the Martin County Veterans Memorial on Winnebago Avenue in Fairmont hit a milestone recently when installation began on the engraved granite name panels.

Installation was expected to take about a week, but last week’s snowy weather delayed completion of the job.

Jim Miller, Chuck Mixson, Doug Landsteiner, Steve Fosness and Terry Anderson, members of the committee planning the memorial, recently met to offer an update on the shrine’s progress and talk about plans for its second phase. Other committee members are Gary Reutzel, John McDonald and the late Bob Meschke.

They predict the cost to complete the memorial will be about $1 million, a much larger amount than the couple hundred thousand dollars they initially believed, but the amount of granite and concrete in the display was magnified to ensure its sustainability and low maintenance. The memorial’s sign alone weighs 7 tons and is a foot thick, and the 8-foot granite panels bearing the names of veterans weigh more than a ton each.

The veterans memorial has a 501c3 tax designation, meaning all donations are tax-deductible. The group has raised about $334,000 in donations and in-kind contributions and also is seeking grant funding, including a matching grant of $400,000 from the state.

“I have testified at three different (legislative) committee meetings, two for the representatives and one for the senate, and they were all very surprised that we’ve raised this much already,” Fosness said.

A county veterans memorial was first proposed about three years ago, and the project has received tremendous backing.

“Since we started this, every veteran I’ve talked to has been supportive. I see this as a big plus. Most of the non-veterans I’ve talked to have been supportive as well,” Landsteiner said.

Fosness stressed that the memorial is for all veterans, combat and non-combat, living or deceased, who called Martin County their home any time during their life. The cost of having a veteran’s name etched on the wall is $200. The names of service members who were prisoners of war, killed in action or missing in action are included on the wall at no charge.

“We have 588 names on the wall so far, plus an additional 86 that were killed in action,” Miller said. “We have got space for 5,000 names.”

“Right now, according to the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, we have approximately 1,700 living veterans in Martin County,” said Landsteiner, who is the county’s veterans service officer. “My database has upwards of 9,000 records of past veterans, living and deceased, from all different branches of the service.”

On the west side of the wall will be a list of donors who have contributed $500 or more. The largest gift of almost $40,000 is the land for the memorial, which was donated by Doug and Diana Kahler.

At the east end of the wall will be a tableau depicting a widow with a small child receiving a tri-fold flag from VFW and American Legion members.

The wall of names, which faces Winnebago Avenue, will establish a parade ground atmosphere, but the project’s second phase, located behind the memorial, will create a different setting. A path winding through a stand of trees will feature five statues of service members representing each of this country’s most recent wars: World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and present-day Afghanistan/Iraq.

Plans are to have a suspended helicopter at the end of the path and a simplistic ship’s prow on the back side of the wall of names. Steve Chase is attempting to secure the helicopter, a ship’s bell and a Navy anchor, which must be accepted by the county, not the memorial committee.

“Military equipment can be given from one government entity to another government entity. The government can’t give it to a private group,” Mixson said.

The estimated cost of the statues is $375,000, and it could take anywhere from three months to one year to obtain them, Mixson said.

The grass around the statues will be sprayed for weeds but not mowed.

“It will be more realistic as to what patrols walk through,” Anderson said.

He added that the walking paths that wind through this area will be flat to allow for accessibility for all.

The site, which will be owned by the county, will feature low-level lighting and a state-of-the-art security system.

Committee members said that although the area is considered a park, it is a solemn site and not meant to be used for picnics or as a playground. People can stop by and check out the progress of the wall but are cautioned that the ground is uneven right now.

“It still is a construction site,” Fosness said.

Although the memorial is being constructed to be relatively maintenance free, the project does have one continuing cost due to the massive flag that waves over the area.

“Our flag lasts about six months, maybe,” Anderson said. “Each one costs about $500. Last year we put up three because of the (Sept. 20) storm. That is an ongoing expense.”

Donations to the Martin County Veterans Memorial can be sent to P.O. Box 623, Fairmont, MN 56031. For more information about the memorial or to include a veterans name, contact Jim Miller at (507) 236-1026 or go online to mcvm.org

A virtual reality tour of the memorial can be viewed on Youtube.com by putting “mcvm project” in the search box.

When the Martin County Veterans Memorial is complete, the committee will continue to raise funds and offer their support to any other Martin County community that wants to put up a memorial specific to its town.