NEW PALESTINE – With a cup of coffee in his right hand, Bob Robertson slowly walked to the large stone marker engraved with his beloved United States Navy’s emblem and smiled.
Robertson, 77, of New Palestine, is proud to see the military branch he served in from 1958 to 1964 represented at the Southern Hancock County Veterans Memorial. After all, everyone knows the Navy is the best branch of the military, he said with a chuckle.
It’s been more than a decade since organizers first announced plans to open a veterans memorial in Sugar Creek Township Park, 4161 S. County Road 700W. Now, supporters say the project is nearing completion, with plans to open to the public in time for Memorial Day.
Legion officials first began planning for the project back in 2002 and broke ground in July 2015. Nearly two years after construction first started, organizers are nearly ready to unveil their work.
Once open, the memorial will serve as a site for remembering the past and honoring those who have served the country. A ceremony celebrating the completion of the memorial is planned for 2 p.m. May 27.
The project, spearheaded by the New Palestine American Legion Post 182, was estimated to cost about $400,000, but organizers say they’ll be able to complete it for $200,000.
Organizers cut plans for interactive displays from the original renderings but say they could still be added later. Volunteers have donated countless hours to building the memorial, saving organizers money that would have been spent on labor, officials said.
Dave Mummert, a New Palestine area builder, has been a familiar face at the site, supervising construction of the project for free. He said volunteers have spent months working hard to complete the memorial.
“We have scrimped and saved and worked so hard to get to this point,” Mummert said.
If the weather cooperates, officials plan to add the finishing touches to the memorial and install a pergola in the next few weeks. By the end of May, they hope to add about 150 engraved memorial bricks, as well as landscaping.
Six memorial benches and granite markers representing the six branches of the United States military — the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines — were recently installed.
Legion member Dave Espich, one of the post members who have supported the project since the start, said he’s thrilled to see the memorial come together.
Espich, 72, a former commander of the post, enlisted in the Navy in 1963 and spent four years on board the USS Joseph P. Kennedy.
“This is just so very exciting and welcomed,” Espich said. “You just can’t imagine all the meetings and work we’ve gone through.”
Down the road, supporters want to add enhancements to the memorial and hope to build interactive displays dedicated to all of major U.S. conflicts. They’re hoping a community member with technology experience will step up to help them accomplish their goal.
The monument is being built on a roughly half acre of land donated to the effort by park officials.
The memorial will be open to anyone wishing to pay their respect to the men and women of Hancock County who served their country, officials said.
Youngsters are already visiting. Max Davis, 3, visited recently with his grandfather, Ron Bramel, a legion member.
The youngster seemed to sense he was witnessing something special: he walked by each engraved marking, passing his hand over them and smiling, much like many of the legion members in tow.
The New Palestine American Legion Post 182 is putting the finishing touches on its new veterans memorial. A public dedication of the memorial is planned for Memorial Day weekend.
What: Dedication of the new veterans memorial in New Palestine
When: 2 p.m. May 27
Where: Sugar Creek Township Park, 4161 S. County Road 700W.