This was a very special project. We had attended PLANET’s Arlington R&R work day for many years, when the PLANET Day of Service was announced. We took on the challenge and reached out to our Sussex County Chamber of Commerce to see if there was a project that we could take on. After some consideration, they put me in contact with the town administrator, who then put me in contact with veteran Greg Williams – the man who conceived of the Woodbourne Park Veterans Memorial Garden. Greg is a Navy serviceman who served in Iraq. While there, he challenged his comrades upon their return home to build something in their communities that would honor their fellow servicemen and women.
Greg and I met with contractor, Tom Madsen, who was the County Chamber President at the time. It was at that meeting that Greg presented his idea. He showed us a 2’ x 2’ board that had a scale model of a ¼” x ½” brick patio laid out with great precision. On this, he had placed monuments in a circle, like hour marks on a clock. The monuments shortest to tallest were as follows: Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and Global War on Terror. The last and tallest monument was one thanking all who had served their country. In the middle of the circle was the Battlefield Cross cast in bronze, backed by the American flag. Greg had no money but he had a dream and he had me – I was all in. I told him I would take his concept and build a working drawing.
The cost of this project would be considerable – over $12,000.00. The monuments were to be imported from India, engraved in Vermont, then brought to New Jersey. We incorporated a paver setting to allow for engraved memorial pavers to be purchased as part of a fund raising opportunity for the memorial. We determined that this was going to be a two-year project; setting the pavers in the first year, and putting up the monuments in the second.
So with the vision laid out and a plan in place, we approached the town officials. They gave us full permission to place the memorial anywhere in Woodbourne Park, plus, they wanted to change the name of the park to Woodbourne Veterans Memorial Park. The buzz had started. Two weeks later we had a groundbreaking ceremony and we started construction the following day.
At this time, we had begun fundraising efforts for the monuments by selling engraved pavers and hosting car shows. On the day of one of our scheduled car shows, we had to cancel the event due to a sudden rainstorm. They had already closed the park for the event, so Tom and Greg were at the entrance informing attendees that the show had been canceled. Someone mentioned to Tom and Greg that something had been left at the memorial. They went down to see what was left behind and found two medals, a decorative rope, and money folded over with a note that stated, “I am a homeless veteran; this is the first time in my life that this community has done something so special for the armed forces, so thank you! The least I can give is this two hundred and fifty dollars to this project.” We were all moved by this poignant gesture.
When funds were secured, we scheduled to install the monuments before Memorial Day of the following year. In the spring of that year, our Farmside team installed all the monuments and the pedestal for the Battlefield Cross Memorial. In its pedestal we placed a fixed box that displayed the medal above the paver honoring all homeless veterans. One day, there was a jogger who had run through the construction area, then went off to the parking lot in the park. I asked Tom to check up on him. He did, and told me the jogger was a veteran who was so proud of what we were doing that he was overcome with emotion and in tears. This was only one of many meaningful moments we would share in during our construction time.
When the project was completed, a ribbon cutting ceremony was scheduled for the day before Memorial Day. Invitations were extended to re-enactors from the Revolutionary War, Civil War and Daughters of the American Revolution. Additionally, all local veterans, fire department members, and state and local dignitaries were invited – over 500 people in all in attendance; what a day! We had a wreath laying ceremony for each monument. I was given the honor of cutting the ribbon to the memorial – an emotional and humbling moment for me. What a special time to see the whole community come together to honor our service people. We felt grateful to have been a part of bringing respect and honor to our service men and women, providing a lasting legacy for generations to come. We were further honored by receiving the prestigious Chairman’s Award from the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce for our work on this project.
So with that I submit this project for review and invite other business owners to take an active role in helping to build their communities. In doing so, many wonderful things unfold, connecting people and strengthening the bonds of communities.