When the new Veterans Memorial Park in Alexandria opened to the public on June 17, Jim Conn glimpsed a woman, kneeling and weeping as she touched a veteran’s name engraved in stone.
“It was a sacred moment for me, revealing that our new park has become a powerful force of connectivity, not just for veterans but also for generations of Alexandrians that have preceded us,” said Conn, a member of the committee that built it. “It’s a memorial for the ages.”
The park includes the names of 7,000 veterans and serves as a reminder that no veteran should be forgotten, Conn said. “It’s not just granite and flags – but all of that and much more,” he said.
The final large pieces of the memorial were put in place last Friday and the park is now open to those adhering to protocols concerning social distancing.
Ownership of the monoliths, remembrance walls and other property in the park, estimated at nearly $1.5 million, was officially transferred to the city and approved by the Alexandria City Council Monday night. The city agreed to maintain the park.
The process of planning, fundraising, designing and building Veterans Memorial Park took several years and many helping hands.
“All of you who contributed time, treasure and talent are to be both congratulated and thanked for being a vital ingredient of one of the finest veteran/city parks in the nation,” the Veterans Memorial Park Committee said in a news release.
Nuts and bolts
Here are the “nuts and bolts” of how the park came to be:
Conn described the City Council as a “potent political ally” from the beginning and then as a partner for providing the funds to construct a portion of the bathrooms and pavilion annex at the park.
Mayor Sara Carlson, Conn added, provided the early “sparkiness and leadership” in supporting the creation of the park.
The early VMP Committee was astounded when the council gave the committee access to the property to build the park. The direction from the city was “build it and we will support you,” Conn said.
The VMP is situated upon a parcel of land at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Broadway in the area previously known as “Legion Park” and served as a modest city park.
In the 1800s, the site had been used as a city dump and had a low swamp close to the original downtown. So when excavation for the VMP began in 2019, thousands of discarded bottles from the turn of the century were uncovered, along with tons of ash from the early power plant and all sorts of durable refuse, including chassis from early automobiles, according to Conn.
The ground was extremely unstable, Conn said, which made the site unable to meet the load bearing requirements of the heavy surface structures planned for the park.
Innovative Foundation SupportWorks of Rush City was initially hired to install nine foundational helicoils for the undersoil support system.
“When the dust settled, almost 100 helicoils were actually installed underneath the VMP at depths reaching 60 feet below the surface,” Conn said.
A place of dignity and respect
Twenty-eight black granite monoliths quarried from the Mesabi Iron Range in northern Minnesota contain the engraved names of more than 7,000 veterans who served in the U.S. Armed Forces from July 4, 1776 to the present.
A majority of the veterans honored have connections to Douglas County. Each monolith is 42-inches wide, 8-inches thick, stands 6-feet tall and weighs a bit over one ton, Conn noted.
Engraved veteran names in alphabetical sequence stand ¾ of an inch high sandblasted into black granite monoliths by the Fergus Falls Monument Company.
There are four distinct war eras within the park – the Early War Era (1776-1917), Global War Era (1917-1950), Cold War Era (1950-1990) and Gulf War Era (1990 to present).
Veteran names within each era are engraved on each of two sides of a monolith. Each side is identified by a number and a letter to help loved ones locate their veteran. There can be up to 300 veteran names on each monolith.
The list of more than 7,000 veteran names was created with input from the Douglas County Historical Society and help from the Veterans Service Office in Alexandria.
“Although most of the names have ties to the Douglas County area, the VMP was designed with the intent that no veteran will ever be forgotten,” Conn said.
The design of the VMP was based upon a concept developed by two local Cold War Era veterans, Gabe Pipo of Brandon and Russ Oorlog of Alexandria. They took their concept to architect Greg Bohl from the civil engineering firm of Widseth in Alexandria, who then created a three dimensional rendition of the VMP in 2017.
Creative Impact Design of Alexandria, owned by Jeff and Lucy Roste, then donated their creative effort to help craft the tribute to all veterans who served honorably in the Armed Services.
To create the features included within the VMP, this design team gathered many thoughts and ideas from local veterans and then presented their creative opinions to the VMP Committee.
Some of the design highlights include:
Granite tablets honoring all donors who contributed over $200.
A single granite tablet honoring veterans of Alexandria Industries.
Engravings in granite on the base of the Liberty Bell list “freedom, honor, justice, liberty and peace.”
The motto, “Let No Veteran Be Forgotten,” is affixed to the Veterans Wall of Honor.
Special bronze plaques honor John Wedum, Terence Kjos, veterans of Douglas Machine, and combat veterans.
A granite tablet honors Special Combatants, acknowledging names of local veterans exposed to extraordinary hardships while defending the country.
Granite benches recognizing individual veterans – Dorothy Lee, Joe Koopman, Leander Hens, Louis Grosenick, Virgil Batesole, Warren Gust and sons of Gust.
A Veterans Wall of Honor includes seven 24-inch bronze service insignias: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Guard and Merchant Marine.
Some weighty facts
The concrete in the park – almost 700 tons – was donated by Alexandria Concrete.
Each monolith weighs a bit over 3,000 pounds and since there are 28 of them, that translates into 42 tons of granite purchased from the Fergus Falls Monument Company.
Additional granite structures, including the Liberty Bell, benches and pedestals, are estimated to weigh about 18 tons.
That works out to a total of 760 tons of above-ground materials at the VMP.