NEW PALESTINE — His white polo shirt was bright in the May afternoon sun, the honor pins on his cap glittering in its rays. His daughter walked up to him and placed a hand on his shoulder, and he smiled as she spoke into his ear.
Forest Parsley, a Marine Corp veteran who served during the Korean War, and his family were among the nearly 100 New Palestine residents who met in Sugar Creek Township Park Saturday afternoon to celebrate the fruits of nearly a decade’s worth of labor — the new veterans memorial dedicated to Southern Hancock servicemen and women.
“I’m so proud of you,” Denise Short told Parsley, congratulating her father on his efforts to bring the $400,000 project to completion. “This is all because of you.”
Under a bright blue sky, with American flags waving in the air, dotting the front yards of nearby homes, those gathered bowed their heads, praying the new Southern Hancock County Veterans Memorial could now be the community gathering place they’d always hoped.
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After years of planning and months of fundraising and building, the memorial is now open to the public. Saturday, leaders of the New Palestine American Legion Post 182, the organization that rallied for the memorial’s construction, dedicated the site to their fallen comrades, their brothers and sisters in arms who left the world before the local memorial they’d so long dreamed of had come to fruition.
Parsley has been there since the beginning.
A longtime member of the legion, he was there in 2002 when the group first started planning for the memorial. He was there as they searched for a spot to build it, there when workers finally broke ground in 2015.
He’s been there almost every week since then, stationed in the lot at the park, watching as their years of preparation finally started to take shape. And, with his family surrounding him, he watched from the back of the crowd Saturday as it was finally blessed and opened.
It was rewarding to see the place finally filled with people, said Parsley, as he surveyed the crowd. He hopes it stays, hopes that for years to come, his neighbors will see the spot as a cornerstone in the community.
Sleek black granite slabs — one for each of the branches of the military — and three towering flag poles make up memorial. Legion leaders used grants and donations from businesses and residents to build it, said Ron Ordelheide, the legion commander.
They’ll need about $200,000 more to add some finishing touches – finish pouring concrete and purchase and install benches around the site — and maintain it for the first few years, Ordelheide said.
Before the end of the summer, some 150 engraved memorial bricks, as well as landscaping, should be in place. A pergola will be installed over a stage the legion hopes will be a great site for community concerts in the future.
It was the community’s support in the project and the donation of roughly half an acre of park land donated to the cause by town officials that offered the push the legion needed to get bring the project together, Ordelheide said.
In a way, it helped breathe new life into the legion, he said, proof of which could be seen in the crowd that gathered for the memorial dedication Saturday.
For years, legion members have held a service to mark Memorial Day; for years, it was only legion members who showed up to participate, he said. Seeing the crowd that turned out Saturday served as a sign to the legion’s members that their neighbors were as dedicated to veterans as veterans are dedicated to the community, he said.
That’s an important partnership that always needs to be acknowledged, Short said.
As the crowd started to clear after the dedication, Short walked with Parsley around the monument to take photos. Veterans need to feel embraced by their community, to feel appreciated year round, not just around the holidays, she said.
Having their own memorial in southern Hancock County accomplishes that.
“It’s been a long time coming,” she said. “I’m very, very proud.”