Newly remodeled Willmar Flags of Honor veterans memorial dedicated on 20th anniversary of 9/11
After several years of fundraising, planning and finally construction, the remodeled Flags of Honor Veterans Memorial in Willmar was dedicated on Sept. 11.
WILLMAR — With a breeze keeping the 100 American flags flying high and hundreds of people in attendance, the Willmar Flags of Honor Veterans Memorial was rededicated on Saturday after undergoing a major renovation.
On the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Willmar ceremony remembered all those who served.
"Not long after the towers fell, a new generation of warriors answered the call of duty," said Steve Gardner, who acted as the project manager for the memorial. "They followed in the footsteps of the generations of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and coast guardsmen that went before them. All of them are represented in the granite pavers of the memorial."
The ceremony included speeches from Willmar Mayor Marv Calvin and State Senator Andy Lang, as well as from Gardner himself. The singing of the national anthem and invocation opened the ceremony; a moment of silence, singing of God Bless America and the benediction completed it. The West Central Connection Chorus sang a melody of the armed forces themes, inviting all those who served to stand in honor of their specific force.
The refurbished memorial includes a plaza made of 683 memorial pavers, each one dedicated to a veteran. The last 10 pavers were installed just 16 hours before the ceremony was set to begin.
"We sold so many pavers, we literally ran the granite company out of granite," Gardner said.
Eight stone memorial benches surround a granite monolith in the center of the plaza. The stone is carved with the likeness of the American flag and on each side there is a plaque representing one of the five traditional armed forces — Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard.
There are still 100 flag poles at the monument, a change to the original plan which called to remove half. However, after viewing the the monument from above, thanks to a drone, the decision was made to keep all of the original poles, which fly casket flags from area military families on special days, as the poles seem to embrace the monument.
"These flags behind us now, they represent the remembrance of all those sacrifices," said Lang, a veteran himself. "They mean remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, remember those who served and those still serving."
Planning for the renovation started nearly five years ago, with fundraising and design beginning in earnest in 2018 . The Veterans Central Council began sharing its vision with area businesses and organizations, hoping to raise the approximately $250,000 needed. The pavers and benches were also sold to raise funds. In the end, fundraising was successful, with most of the budget coming from both monetary and in-kind donations. The list of donors includes dozens of organizations, businesses, families and individuals in addition to all who purchased a paver or bench.
"Willmar is a community that makes things happen by collaborating, by working together, by volunteering, by donating and by being involved," Calvin said. "The citizens of Willmar and from this area have really done themselves proud again today."
Gardner thanked two donors by name during the ceremony. First was Marcus Construction, who completed the site work at the monument.
"This project would not have been completed without the dedication and, more importantly, the expertise Marcus brought to the table," Gardner said. "I can not thank you enough for what you have done here."
The second was the city of Willmar, which not only gave its permission for the project to occur on city property, but helped throughout the process.
"They have been with us every step of the way and provided invaluable assistance," Gardner said.
As Kandiyohi County remembered its veterans and commemorated the 9-11 anniversary at the dedication ceremony on Saturday, Calvin hoped the country would be able to take the lessons learned 20 years ago and bridge the gaps that have been forming.
"Our country needs to rally back together and come together," Calvin said.
Both Calvin and Lang said that the United States of America continues to be the best country in the world, even now as it faces challenges and division. The veterans represented by the Flags of Honor are without a doubt one of the main reasons why America has achieved what it has, but, according to Lang, it is also because of every individual who calls America home.
"Without question it is because of all of you," Lang said. "All of you today here make this country what it is."