Public spaces honoring vets raise community awareness

AN AMERICAN FLAG flies over the veterans memorial in Memorial Park which honors veterans from the Civil War through World War I. With the Veterans Honor Park on Washington Avenue, all veterans will be remembered.

In recent years, parks and memorials honoring veterans have been cropping up around the region. In Colman, a recently constructed memorial lies along SD-34. In Madison, the planned Veterans Honor Park will be along Washington Avenue.

Veterans have no simple or single answer when asked why these are important not only to them but also to the communities in which they are being constructed.

"I think it was long overdue," said Dan Fritz, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1973-77 and whose dad was a Marine during World War II.

While Madison does have a veterans memorial in Memorial Park along N. Egan Avenue, it is small and honors only veterans from the Civil War through World War I.

With the honor park along a major thoroughfare, organizers hope to honor their comrades and veterans from other conflicts and to raise awareness.

"We want to honor past veterans, current veterans and future veterans," said Danny Frisby-Griffin, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1983-2001.

For these men, who are on the planning committee for the Veterans Honor Park, these types of public spaces are important reminders that the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces make a difference.

"We need to realize that veterans are responsible for the freedoms we enjoy," said another committee member, Kim Verhey, who served in the U.S. Army from 1972-75 and in the S.D. Army National Guard from 1980-89.

Because the U.S. has not been involved in a conflict on American soil since the Civil War, this may be difficult for many to understand. However, when viewed in light of terrorist attacks, such as that on the World Trade Center in 2001, the way in which servicemen and women protect American freedoms becomes clearer.

"You have to be willing to root out the forces that are against our national interests," Frisby-Griffin said.

The honor park and other memorials acknowledge that those who serve do so because they are called. Servicemen and women do not choose the conflicts in which they will engage; those decisions are made by politicians, Fritz said.

"I think people are finally figuring out Vietnam vets were treated very poorly," he said.

"All races consider each other as brothers in the military service," Verhey said. "There's no black and white. There's the guy who's got your back fighting alongside you."

This comradeship continues beyond the years of service. That bond is one reason members of the Ronald Westby VFW Post 2638 and the McKibbin-Mosher American Legion Post 25 joined forces to develop plans for the Veterans Honor Park and to raise funds.

"It's a way to recognize and remember our comrades. They do become our brothers and sisters," Frisby-Griffin said.

Indirectly, the honor park recognizes their families who serve along with them by enduring hardships, separations and anxiety, especially during deployments.

"The water heater only breaks when the serviceman is deployed," Frisby-Griffin said. While veterans service organizations do provide support when family members are deployed, noting the sacrifices of families is important, too.

For veterans, public spaces like the Veterans Honor Park provide an opportunity to reflect on the lives of those who have served, according to Fritz.

"It makes you wonder as you read the names. Who were they? What did they leave behind?" he said.

Similarly, they can be an educational tool, Frisby-Griffin said.

"You can take your kids and folks you mentor and tell them your story. You can teach them about service and honor," he noted.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 7.5% of all Americans have served in the armed forces. In South Dakota, 9.1% have served. With the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan -- the longest in the nation's history -- many who are currently serving or who have served in recent years saw more than one deployment.

For this reason, the Veterans Honor Park and other memorials are important.

"We want the Madison community and people who visit Madison to say, `Holy smokes! This community cares'," Frisby-Griffin said.