Park dedication pays tribute to veterans

May 27, 2016

Members of the Veterans Freedom Park committee (left to right)  are Jim and Josie Kelly, Ron Trzeciak, Cheryl Smith, Lori Minterfering, Tom House, Cindy Friese, Jim Anthony, Renee Haley, Andrea McCrary, Stacy Stocking, Debbie Mason, Fred Hollister, Joe Bradley, Ralph Badgero and Norm Schollett.

Members of the Veterans Freedom Park committee (left to right) are Jim and Josie Kelly, Ron Trzeciak, Cheryl Smith, Lori Minterfering, Tom House, Cindy Friese, Jim Anthony, Renee Haley, Andrea McCrary, Stacy Stocking, Debbie Mason, Fred Hollister, Joe Bradley, Ralph Badgero and Norm Schollett.

By Steve Landon
Photos by Steve Landon

In this tumultuous world we live it is sometimes easy to forget we still live in the greatest nation on earth, a nation whose freedoms exist thanks to countless men and women who serve and have served in the armed forces.  Sadly many gave the ultimate sacrifice and never came home. Now thanks to the Veterans Freedom Park in Harrison the memory of those who died and served will live forever on at the new park dedicated Wednesday May 25th.

Located across from the Clare County Court House the Veterans Freedom Park features the Wall of Tears a granite wall spanning 47 feet. Engraved in the surface are the names of 301 individuals from Clare, Gladwin, Midland and Isabella counties who gave their lives in the service of our great country since World War II. In the visitor center there is a mural painted by a Marine Corp veteran. The grounds feature benches, flowers and walkways.  Flags in honor of all branches of the armed forces wave proudly above the fence surrounding the grounds. The park, five years in the making honors all veterans of the four county areas. The place is truly beautiful!

Partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid 80’s greeted veterans, families and visitors for grand opening ceremonies.  The program began following the ribbon cutting with Pastor Jim Young of Clare delivering the invocation. Following the singing of the National Anthem by Clare High School graduate Mallory McDowell a pair of A-10 Warthogs out of the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, Mich., roared over head to the cheers of visitors and honored guests.

Major General Gregory J. Vadnais – Adjutant General of Michigan delivered the keynote address followed by speeches from several local and state dignitaries. The highlight of the afternoon came with the unveiling of the “Wall of Tears” the reading of the names of those on the wall by CW5 Gabriel Ambrozaitis.  A bell from the S.S. Nieuw Amsterdam owned by Joe Bradley was rung with the reading of each name. The ship carried over 378,631 troops during her service in WW II.

Mallory McDowell as she sings “Amazing Grace”.

Mallory McDowell as she sings “Amazing Grace”.

The program concluded with the singing of Amazing Grace by Mallory McDowell with music provided by the Harrison High School Band and the playing of Taps by MSP Chaplain Tim Tanner.

Following the ceremony many guests visited the wall and walked around the grounds remembering loved ones.  Veterans saluted of the names of lost buddies and friends etched on the wall as they laid flowers other reminisced and shared memories. “I’m so happy to see his name here I know he’ll always be remembered for the sacrifice he made for all of us” said one visitor as she proudly pointed out the name of her late uncle who died in WWII.   There was clearly some sadness in the air knowing these young men whose names line the wall never had a chance to live a full life, however, there was also an exceptional amount of pride especially from families knowing their loved one had given their all for this nation and through this project they will never be forgotten.

Currently there is nothing like Veterans Freedom Park in Michigan it would not have been possible had it not been for the many veterans, volunteers, contributors and local official’s who came together to make it all possible. This Memorial Weekend take a break from your busy holiday activities to visit the park and remember those who have given so much.  Freedom is never free it takes the fine men and women of the U.S. armed forces to protect what we often take for granted. This weekend and everyday they deserve our appreciation. Take time this weekend to thank a vet and remember a fallen hero.
The park is still in need of donations, to contribute and learn more about the project visit http://www.veteransfreedompark.com/

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