Home of the Brave

ENNIS, TX — Veterans Memorial Park of Ennis has been open to the public since August, and many are enjoying its recreational amenities. The central feature of the property, a salute in brick and mortar to the men and women of America’s Armed Forces, remains under construction. “Hopefully we can finish it by Memorial Day next year,” said Larry Fincher, chairman of the committee overseeing the project of installing a permanent memorial to troops past and present. “But by then we will at least have completed Phase 1 of the effort.”

The initial stage involves laying the foundation for a circular promenade with a centerpiece devoted to veterans and surrounding sections dedicated to specific conflicts, from World War I to the current War on Terror. Larry stressed the main objective in funding the park’s namesake memorial is to pay homage to enlisted personnel en masse. “We want to honor all U.S. veterans,” he said, “whether they served in a war or not, whether dead or alive and whether they are from Ennis or not.”

Local American Legion Post Commander Dan Cook, whose organization is sponsoring the project, underscored the mission’s broad appeal when he interjected, “If you put the uniform on to serve your country, this is your memorial.”

Football and soccer fields, walking paths and a playground at the new park will accommodate leisure activities for years to come, but members of the building committee hope the memorial now underway will become the hub
of the facility and the heart of the community. “This will be a place for people to go to remember loved ones, a place for the town to gather for patriotic events,” Dan pointed out. Marylyn Wylie, fundraising coordinator for the memorial, agreed. “The park will be where Ennisites can come and be reminded of the sacrifices our soldiers have made,” she said. “We can’t forget what they have done for America, and we want these grounds to be an ongoing tribute to their courage that will last for generations.”

The idea for the local memorial was conceived during the 2008 campaign for Honor Flight of Ellis County, an Ennis- based branch of the national initiative to transport World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the monument erected there in their honor. The Ennis group was the first from Texas to attend, and has since served as a model for others around the state. “We discussed then that Ennis didn’t have a central spot to honor vets,” Dan said. “We have plaques at different locations, but no  common meeting place.”

Public interest in a memorial grew considerably during the stop the Traveling Vietnam Wall made last year to the Bluebonnet City where it was erected on the site of the present park, a onetime Ennis Independent School District campus. Hosted by the American Veterans Traveling Tribute, the touring wall proved an emotional experience for citizens who crowded the area every day of its brief time in Ennis to pay their respects. “People were really moved,” Dan continued, “so we knew we had to do something. That’s when we got behind Larry to make a permanent memorial happen.”

Luck was on their side. When the city of Ennis purchased the land where the Vietnam Wall stood and began making plans for a park, Larry and his supporters asked the city council for permission to allocate part of the property for a military memorial. Council members voted unanimously to set aside a tract of land for that use and to name the facility Veterans Memorial Park of Ennis.

Work has been steady at the site since, and fundraisers from raffles and spaghetti dinners to an auction and 10-K run have netted large sums toward the effort to complete the memorial by May 2012. The committee is now appealing to corporate entities to aid in sponsoring the organization to ensure a timely finish to the veterans’ portion of the park. “We are making strides to build this memorial but we need help,” Larry admitted.

“The committee is offering business and industrial establishments a chance to partner with us and to lead us like a general would lead his troops.” There are five corporate packages available, ranging from increments of $500 to $10,000, and all contributors at these levels will be duly recognized. The strained economy has put a dent in donations, however, and committee members are urging citizens to contribute even small amounts.

“We know times are tough,” Marylyn acknowledged, “but we have faith in Ennis’ hometown spirit and know it will pull us through so we can make this park all that it should be for our vets.”

Larry added that those unable to make sizeable donations can give $5 or $10 toward buying a flagpole, a tree or a bronze service seal for the monuments. “They say every little bit counts,” Larry remarked, “and it does.”

The most personal aspect of the forthcoming memorial is creating pathways composed of brick pavers engraved with the names of servicemen and women from all branches of the Armed Forces and from all parts of the country. This feature is one of the most popular ways locals are contributing to the memorial. Each individual paver, engraved by Giles Monuments, costs $125 and will be placed at the entrance and on other walkways inside the esplanade representing fields of service  or wars. “Every U.S. vet is eligible for an engraved paver,” Larry noted, “whether they are presently serving or have passed away. They can be from here or anywhere else. We already have bricks engraved with names of vets from Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Georgia.”

In addition to soliciting monetary donations, the Veterans Memorial Committee encourages increased involvement within the organization from Ennis and other Ellis County residents. “We would love to welcome more people to our meetings and to serve on subcommittees,” Marylyn said. “I love this little town and want to share the pride of having something so special right here to honor our heroes.”

Larry concurred. “I grew up here so this means a lot to me and it will mean a lot to all of us,” he stated. He believes the best thing about the memorial is how it will serve as a great educational tool. Kids playing in the park, who might not know much about America’s patriotic past, can learn about it in a setting befitting the sacrifices made to preserve national freedom.

“I can’t wait to celebrate our first Memorial Day on the site,” Dan enthused. “Like the Vietnam Wall, it’s going to take people’s breath away.”

Written by Randy Bigham.

Editor’s Note: For more information go to www.veteransmemorialennis.com.