On the west edge of downtown Farmington on a recent rainy day, Leon Orr and a volunteer were getting ready to install a weatherproof display case at the city’s future veterans memorial. The case is part of the final phase for the monument, which is just on schedule to be completed by the end of July.
“It’s gonna be tight,” said Orr, chairman of the nonprofit group that’s planning and building the memorial.
Ornamental boulders and two granite walls with a poem and quotes have to be ordered and installed. Funds to secure a $10,000 matching grant still have to be raised. At the latest, Orr said, the seven-year, $200,000 project will be complete by the end of 2014.
Looking at the spot reserved for the memorial’s centerpiece — a large, granite flag folded in the custom of military funerals — Orr describes how residents will be affected by the simple, potent symbol in their daily lives.
“When you drive by, you see the big folded flag,” he said, “and you know what that means.”
At least eight residents of the Farmington area have been killed in action since the Civil War, according to the memorial’s research volunteers. Orr, a 1950s veteran of the Air Force, said while those fallen are the “stars” of the memorial, it honors all those residents who have served, including all five siblings from one family who served in the second World War.
Another goal of the memorial is to make that service more real to Farmington’s residents today. Orr has himself felt the weight of the past as he helped compile the list of Farmington veterans. He has read the telegrams informing families of the death of loved ones. He chokes up at the thought of his three grandsons, ages 20, 22 and 25, who are the same age as draftees in past wars.
“It just gives me an understanding of those parents and grandparents who have lost young men in the service.”
To commemorate the service of individual veterans, the memorial holds space for 300 engraved pavers throughout the memorial. More than 230 of the pavers, which help pay for the memorial, have been sold.
These small monuments, Orr said, are key to instilling the significance of the veterans’ service. “We’re trying to emphasize who they were,” he said. When you look at each veteran’s name, their branch of service and the war or peacetime years they served, “you’ve got a story about a person,” he said. “Not just an abstraction.”
Toward that end, all the Farmington area’s veterans will be also named in a book that is planned on site. The display will feature historical news stories about them.
The display case was built by one of those veterans, 87-year-old Orren Lucht, a retired engineer who served in the military police for Douglas MacArthur’s army of occupation in Japan. A local veteran-owned company donated flagpoles and streetlights.
In all, Orr said, the memorial has received more than $100,000 in donated time and materials, including electrical work and grading.
“You use all your connections,” he said, “and the people you know use all their connections.”
The city, which provided land for the site, will take control of the memorial when construction is finished. After its dedication — tentatively scheduled for July 27 — the nonprofit can begin work on the second phase of the memorial, which will see the installation of a bronze statue of a soldier saluting the folded flag.
That statue, Orr said, is going to portray a modern U.S. soldier, saluting his comrades from the past.
The soldier will also remind visitors and passers-by that Farmington continues to send young men and women to serve in the country’s military — a recent banquet honored about a dozen high school students who are entering the service after graduating.
Graison Hensley Chapman is a Northfield freelance writer.