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Raising the Flags of Honor high: Renovation of Willmar memorial to military veterans would include 50 flags flying daily

WILLMAR -- John Christenson, adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans chapter in Willmar, has a vision of 50 American flags flapping in the wind, leading up to a majestic granite monument to the area's military veterans and the five branches of...

Erica Dischino / TribuneJohn Christenson points to an image of the design for a renovated memorial at Flags of Honor Park in Willmar. Fundraising is underway with a goal of completion by Veterans Day 2020.
Erica Dischino / Tribune John Christenson points to an image of the design for a renovated memorial at Flags of Honor Park in Willmar. Fundraising is underway with a goal of completion by Veterans Day 2020.

WILLMAR - John Christenson, adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans chapter in Willmar, has a vision of 50 American flags flapping in the wind, leading up to a majestic granite monument to the area's military veterans and the five branches of the armed services, all overlooking Willmar Lake. The monument would be set in the middle of a pentagon-shaped plaza with rows of memorial pavers commemorating local veterans.

"I've been wanting to do this for two years," Christenson said.

Christenson's vision of a new memorial to veterans would replace what is already at Flags of Honor Park, giving the park along Business 71 North in Willmar a much needed upgrade.

In Christenson's opinion the new design would bring Willmar up to the level of other cities' memorials and provide the veterans, their family and friends a memorial of which they can be proud.

"I think they deserve more," Christenson said.

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The new design is estimated to cost $300,000, with all the funding coming from donations. The Willmar City Council approved the project in November, as long as the funds are raised. As the park is city-owned, the council's approval was needed before any work could be done.

The Veterans Central Council, made up of the local DAV, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, is leading the project, and has already spent thousands on the project, specifically for the granite monument.

"We had to put $10,000 down to hold it," Christenson said.

The group will need to raise another $80,000 before the contractor, Don Calhoun of Murphy Granite, will begin work on the new memorial.

The plan also calls for new landscaping and lighting. The current memorial stone will be moved near the entrance of the park and three granite signs will be added to the park, with the Pledge of Allegiance, Oath of Allegiance and the original dedication of the flags engraved on the signs.

The Flags of Honor were first flown on Nov. 11, 1976, Veterans Day during the country's bicentennial year.

The flags, which are casket flags that once covered the coffins of military members and were donated to the project by families, were first part of a bicentennial Flags of Honor project. At first the organizers had hoped to have more than 200 flags lining Business 71 from the First Street Bridge to what is now the MinnWest Technology Campus. Instead 214 flags were installed at what was then Homewood Park, now Sperry Park, on Highway 71. The flags became a permanent display at the park.

In 1987, the flags were moved to the current location, due to bad soil conditions at the first park. The number of flags was reduced from 214 to 100 when the move was made. A building to store the flags at the park was constructed in 2001.

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Due to the fragile condition of the casket flags, they are flown only on Memorial Day, Flag Day, July 4th and Veterans Day.

In the proposed new plan for the Flags of Honor, the number of flags will be reduced to 50, one for each state in the union. Christenson said the plan is to purchase sturdy nylon flags, which will then be flown year-round. The casket flags will continue to be used on those same four holidays each year.

"It is going to look nice everyday," Christenson said.

Christenson said he has begun speaking with veterans and other community groups about donating to the project. Brochures have also been sent to Willmar businesses. While the initial hope had been to have the project completed by this Veterans Day, Christenson is now aiming for Veterans Day 2020.

"I am going to get this done," Christenson said. "It is all for the veterans and their families."

Another way to raise money for the project is the sale of 600 16-by-8-inch "Walk of Honor" granite pavers. The pavers, which can be purchased for $250 or $200 if more than one is bought, will make up the edges of the pentagon plaza.

The pavers are available for all veterans of any service branch, living or deceased, who served honorably from the Revolutionary War to the present day. On each paver, the rank, name, branch, division and years of services will be engraved.

There will also be a granite tribute placed at the entrance to the memorial to honor those who donated to the project at various levels. Granite recognition benches can be purchased for $5,000.

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Donations can be sent to John Christenson, c/o Willmar Veterans Memorial, 3005 2nd Ave. N.W., Willmar. Those interested or with more questions can contact Christenson at john.christenson1215@gmail.com or 320-220-0890.

Christenson is confident the money for the memorial will be raised, even if it takes a bit of time. The community has a history of donating to worthy causes and projects.

"They have always done well for the veterans," he said.

Christenson is definitely passionate about this project and hopes that will spread to other people.

"I am excited. I really want this done," he said. "I'm thrilled."

Related Topics: AMERICAN LEGIONVETERANS
Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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