Richfield builds a memorial to honor all veterans, not just its own

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 28, 2013 - 12:10 PM

After years of work, Richfield’s veterans memorial will be dedicated on Memorial Day.

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About 2,000 people are expected to attend the dedication of Richfield’s veterans memorial on Monday. The project took five years to complete.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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At the center of Richfield’s Honoring All Veterans Memorial is a giant bronze bust of World War II Marine and Iwo Jima flag-raiser Chuck Lindberg, who lived in the city for more than 50 years before he died in 2007.

Lindberg approved of the statue, which is mounted on a 12-ton hunk of taconite. But by all reports he was a modest man, telling memorial planners, “Don’t make it about me.”

Those who worked on the project in Veterans Memorial Park, which will be dedicated on Memorial Day, say they tried to stay true to that sentiment by building a monument that they hope becomes a place to honor all veterans.

Hundreds of names on the black granite tablets that surround Lindberg’s bust include that of a soldier from the Revolutionary War as well as men and women who are serving now all over the world.

“It is a way to honor all veterans, not only those who served in a war, but who served anywhere in the world,” said Len Gudmunson, president of the memorial board. “They were willing to be available and to put their life on the line.”

It’s been a long haul for planners of the memorial. Richfield artist Travis Gorshe had a vision for the site by 2005, but it was still a grassy hill between the Veterans Memorial Park picnic shelter and the American Legion. The bust of Lindberg was mounted there in 2008. The same year, the state allocated $100,000 in bonding money for the project.

But almost the entire cost of the project — $694,000 to date — was to be paid for through donations. To raise that money, organizers are charging $400 to have the name of a service member added to the memorial. Organizers figured people would be more eager to contribute if they could see a more complete monument, so the city of Richfield stepped in with a loan.

The project still owes the city $311,483. Jim Topitzhofer, the city’s director of recreational services, said he thinks the loan will be paid off in about five years. Five-and-a-half granite tablets are full of names; the site has room for 60 tablets in all.

Not all of the veterans listed are from Richfield or even from Minnesota.

“The magnitude of this thing makes it a regional attraction,” Topitzhofer said.

Paths connect the monument to a parking lot near the picnic shelter and to the American Legion. Trees have been planted around the plaza. Six columns surround the Lindberg bust at the center, each bearing the seal of the six military branches and some engraved words from their anthems.

Two other features have deep roots in the community. One, a 1918 bronze plaque that graced several Richfield City Halls over nearly 100 years, honors members of the community who served in and gave their lives in “the war to end all wars” from 1914 to 1918 — at the time, the only world war people had known.

The other is a historical curiosity — the gravestone of a 19-year-old Civil War soldier from Richfield who was mistakenly buried in North Carolina as a Confederate soldier.

The stone, which has the pointed top that marks the graves of Confederate soldiers, identifies the soldier as a John O. Dobson. In 2007, a Civil War researcher discovered that Dobson apparently never existed and the buried man was Union sharpshooter John O. Dolson, who had died from injuries suffered at Gettysburg and whose name had been wrongly recorded.

Dolson’s body remains in a graveyard outside of Raleigh, but it is now marked with the curve-topped marker used on Union graves. The original gravestone was sent to Richfield and is now mounted on a rock on the perimeter of the memorial.

Topitzhofer said the memorial is fairly complete. Benches may be added to the area as donations fund them, and granite tablets will be added as needed.

People have begun to visit the memorial. Veterans Day ceremonies have been at the site for years. A group of new Marines were sworn in there.

Vietnam vet Gudmunson’s name is on one of the tablets, as is that of his son, who served six years in the National Guard. Some families have seven or eight names listed.

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