WILLMAR — The Veterans Central Council, which has been working for years to update Willmar's Flags of Honor Veterans Memorial, probably picked one of the best days possible to break ground on the project. The first ceremonial shovels full of dirt will be moved on June 14, Flag Day.
The public groundbreaking ceremony will start at 11 a.m. Monday at the Flags of Honor, located on Business Highway 71, on the banks of Willmar Lake.
"We are excited for the groundbreaking ceremony to kickstart the renovation project at the Flags of Honor Memorial. The event is the culmination of two years of fundraising and telling the story of the memorial," said Steve Gardner, project manager, in an email to the West Central Tribune.
Construction will begin in earnest after July 4, another auspicious day for a veterans memorial, and take about three months. Marcus Construction is the construction manager, and it is hoped the project will be completed in time for the unveiling to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"I feel it is important for us as a community to memorialize those veterans that sacrificed their youth, and in some cases, their lives for our country. This memorial is a great way to do that," Gardner said.
The project includes installing a brand new memorial monument with bronze medallions depicting each of the five traditional armed forces. There will also be a new paver plaza, lighting, three large flag poles to fly the American, state and POW flags and landscaping. The current grouping of 100 flag poles leading up and around the central plaza will be reduced to 50. The present monument at the site will be located to a different part of the memorial.
Families of veterans have had the opportunity to purchase stone pavers or a limited number of benches. The funds raised from the sale are going toward the project, which is estimated to cost approximately $250,000. Pavers can be purchased for $250, while the benches cost $5,000. Each will be engraved with the name, branch of service, unit and years of service of the veteran.
Gardner said there are 364 pavers still available and two benches. More information can be found on the Willmar Flags of Honor Veterans Memorial Facebook page. The rest of the funding for the project is coming from private and corporate donations.
Since the city of Willmar owns the memorial park, the City Council was asked for, and gave, its permission for the project in 2018. At Monday's City Council meeting it also approved a lease agreement with the Veterans Central Council to allow the group to use the memorial for events.
The last time the Flags of Honor memorial was updated was in 1987. Members of the Veterans Central Council — made up of members from the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans, along with many others in the community — believe a renovation is needed.
The new memorial will be a dignified place for veterans, along with their families, friends and the community as a whole, to reflect on those who have served their country in time of peace and war.
"As a veteran myself who served in the first Gulf War, I find it humbling to see my name next to those that came before me in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam and proud to be next to the veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will have veterans from all generations recognized at the memorial," Gardner said.