In February, a group of volunteers trucked 40,000 cubic yards of Schoharie Creek gravel to a ravine in the town of Florida. The resulting patch of land is slated to be the site of a new veterans memorial.
Bill Weller, who is supervising the project, described the volunteer county and state support and the work done by the Army Corps of Engineers to excavate the flood-eroded gravel and load it into trucks.
“God must have thought the memorial was a good idea,” he said. “It took three weeks, but we had no winter. I’ve never see anything like it.”
By spring, the dirty work was done and a 10-by-15-foot American flag was flying and lighted by July 4.
In the end, the memorial will feature a military helicopter, tank and T33 jet arranged in a rough triangle and encircled by 16 stones in remembrance of the various conflicts where American soldiers served.
At the center will be the American flag, the only part of the monument currently in place, and a single, 9-by-6-foot black granite stone inscribed with the insignia of the five military branches, which will be set up some time in October.
“We’ve talked about honoring the veterans for years,” Weller said. “Now we’re actually doing it.”
The Town Board approved the project early this year, pitching in $15,000 to get it rolling. Since then, a permanent seven-member committee has been set up and $39,000 raised, but such a large memorial isn’t cheap. Weller estimates by the time they’re done it will cost $100,000. All funds are raised by donations and the purchase of memorial pavers.
“We’ll build it as fast as the money comes in,” he said.
The tight budget means none of the seven supervisors, or general laborers for that matter, are getting paid for their work.
“I’m doing this to make sure all the vets coming home are honored,” said Jim Yermas, “the way I wasn’t.”
Yermas saw combat in Vietnam and has been working with veterans and the American Legion since getting home. He’s in charge of getting the tank and helicopter, even traveling to Washington to lobby for help.
“We’re pushing to get everything up as fast as possible,” he said.
The memorial is to honor veterans nationwide, but Weller hopes it will be used for education as well.
“I hope one day you will see busloads of school kids coming to walk the loop,” he said.
That loop, when it is complete, will provide a stark lesson. Walking clockwise, visitors will see stones dedicated to 14 U.S. conflicts from the French and Indian War, to the Revolution, through the World Wars, Vietnam and Iraq, but at the end of the loop will be two empty stones.
“I hope there is never another war,” Weller said, “but the way our country is, we’ll probably need those stones.”
The Florida Veterans’ Park board will be holding a barbecued chicken fundraiser on Sunday at Meadowbrook Saloon in Glen. It will run from noon to 6 p.m. with live music and a Chinese auction. All proceeds go to the memorial.
For more information or to buy a paver, go to www.co.montgomery.ny.us/florida.