NEW PALESTINE — Bill McCoy returned from the Korean War a changed man.
The 84-year-old New Palestine man spent four years fighting for his country in the U.S. Air Force, and those experiences, he said, are never far from his mind.
For the past 12 years, McCoy has been at the forefront of an effort to honor those who put their lives on the line to protect the freedoms their loved ones enjoy today. Friday, his dream becomes reality as members of the New Palestine American Legion Post 182 come together to break ground on a veterans memorial in Sugar Creek Township Park.
The Southern Hancock County Veterans Memorial, to be built at the entrance to the park, 4161 S. County Road 700W, will be constructed in phases; the first phase — clearing the area and pouring the concrete foundation — will cost $25,000, with the entire project estimated at $200,000.
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Friday marks the first step of what is expected to be a years-long process, and McCoy can hardly wait.
“Over the years with all the trials of trying to locate a place for the memorial, we got pretty frustrated, almost to the point where we didn’t think it was going to ever happen,” McCoy said.
“We’re all very excited, needless to say,” Legion member Dave Espich added. “It makes me proud that we’re finally going to have a good memorial here in New Palestine.”
Espich, 70, a U.S. Navy veteran, enlisted in the military in 1963. He ended up spending four years aboard the USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.
Espich’s last cruise on the naval vessel took the crew into the Suez Canal, when a war broke out between Israel and Egypt, and U.S. soldiers found themselves caught in the middle.
“We couldn’t get back out because they were sinking ships, so we had to sail all the way around Africa,” Espich said.
Stories like that are what supporters of the veterans memorial want to keep alive, even after the veterans are gone, Legion members say.
Plans for the memorial include interactive displays recognizing each of the country’s military branches. The memorial will be placed in a circular pattern surrounded by American flags with a monument in the center.
Legion officials are selling memorial bricks to put a personal touch on the site. For $100 each, veterans’ family members may have their loved one’s names inscribed on a brick and installed on the pathway.
Jim Cole, Legion post commander, said the project has been a passion of his for the past year and a half that he has led the post. He hopes the memorial will draw military supporters from across the county.
“We want to honor the military families and the deceased of the New Palestine area, but anyone is welcome to it,” Cole said.
One of the biggest obstacles Legion officials faced over the years was securing a site for the memorial, as well as raising funds to get the first phase started.
Organizers are in the process of raising money for the remainder of the project. Selling commemorative bricks will be part of the process, Cole said.
Officials with Sugar Creek Township Park agreed to allow the monument to be built on about a half-acre of land at the front of the 88-acre park, saying they saw a need to have something special honoring those who had served.
The park was a natural choice, Sugar Creek Township Trustee Bob Boyer said.
“Recognizing the veterans who have served our county is extremely important,” Boyer said. “The park is visited by lots of visitors, particularly children.”
Boyer said it’s important for area youth to understand the importance of the memorial and what the names associated with it mean. That’s why park officials decided to let the Legion use the land near the park entrance at no cost.
“If this were a free-standing memorial on the roadside someplace, people with children wouldn’t necessarily be visiting it,” Boyer said. “We want the children to learn about our military past.”
Park officials will help maintain the land around the memorial once the project is completed.
For veterans, the groundbreaking ceremony can’t come soon enough.
“Too many of our local veterans have passed away, waiting for this to happen,” Espich said. “I’m just so glad that it’s finally becoming a reality.”
What: Groundbreaking ceremony for the Southern Hancock County Veterans Memorial
When: 10 a.m. Friday
Where: Sugar Creek Township Park, 4161 S. County Road 700W