On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, all fell quiet on the Western Front.
At that same hour 97 years later, all was quiet at Sheridan Memorial Park — Minneapolis’ newest war memorial, on the Mississippi riverfront behind the former Grain Belt complex.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board encouraged people to visit the memorial that opened last year, but officials planned no ceremony Wednesday.
At the stroke of 11 a.m., Tom Wilson was the only visitor. The British immigrant had biked over from Lowry Hill. He grew up passing bomb craters in Newcastle. Wilson was thinking of the grandfather he never knew. His remains were never found after he died at the Battle of Passchendaele, a World War I allied campaign against the German Empire.
Wilson liked the understated design of the Minneapolis memorial. It is centered on a large metal orb composed of shieldlike circles. An encircling plaza features pillars for the 11 wars fought since Minnesota joined the Union, from the Civil War to Afghanistan. Each pillar has a synopsis of the conflict, a vignette about a Minnesotan who served in it, and the toll of dead and wounded, both for the state and nationally.
“It’s not triumphalist,” said Wilson, noting that the number of Dakota dead in 1862 is also given. “It speaks to me more than the memorials I grew up with.”
Howard Weller, the last survivor of the 13 area veterans who labored 18 years to get the memorial built, was surprised that there was no Veterans Day observance there. Not that the 87-year-old could have attended this year. He’s hospitalized at Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital.
“That’s really too bad,” he said of the lack of organized observance. “I feel bad for all of these guys who put all of this time and sweat in on this.”
A Park Board spokeswoman said the weather is too unpredictable this time of year for a ceremony. Board President Liz Wielinski, who represents northeast Minneapolis, said Fort Snelling and the State Capitol are more appropriate venues for Veterans Day ceremonies. She has vivid memories of a previous dedication event at Sheridan park: “Oh man, the wind was coming down the river from the northwest and it was cold.”
To which Lisa Weese, one of Weller’s daughters, replied: “Like our soldiers didn’t serve in the cold?”
Weller was recruited by Ed Karbo Sr., the now-deceased visionary behind the memorial. He was a fellow parishioner at St. Hedwig Catholic Church. Once Karbo could no longer drive, Weller served as his chauffeur for fundraising appointments.
Weller said that he was too young to enlist until the year after World War II. He served mostly in Italy, but finished with a short stint in the 82nd Airborne. The year after his discharge, he joined the U.S. Air Force Reserves. He was activated for Korea, but remained stateside.
He met Marlene, his wife of 61 years, and moved to northeast Minneapolis. He worked in sales for a company that sold electric motors. They had four daughters and two sons.
The family has a personal stake in the memorial. Plaster masks were taken of a half-dozen extended Weller family members with military service. They were used by artist Robert Smart for some of the cast-iron facial images that adorn each pillar. Howard Weller’s face stands out because it includes his oxygen tubes.
People tend to visit the memorial most days in ones and twos. Some eat lunch. Some walk dogs. Some sit on the river overlook.
Some wander slowly like Wilson and read the inscriptions. He likes that they honor working-class people, like his parents, who met working in a torpedo factory during World War II.
Jenny Fortman, a Sheridan neighborhood activist, was on the planning group for the memorial. She passes it almost every day when she walks home from downtown. She nearly always spots someone there.
Howard’s son, Jerry, who also lives in Northeast, said he’s surprised that many people have no idea the memorial is there.
One who did Wednesday was Aaron Raivo-Lynch. He brought his mother, Jan Raivo, from the North Side, along with his 4-year-old daughter, Layla Barquero.
They intended to go to the nearby library, but it was closed for the holiday. So they drifted over to the memorial. Raivo said she enjoyed the memorial’s many inscriptions.
“I thought it was very peaceful,” she said.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438