PEPPERELL — While American military forces have remained in Iraq and Afghanistan for well over a decade, local family and friends of those overseas in combat still show concern for their loved ones and want to honor their service. A group of local veterans and citizens will see their efforts to honor those servicemen and women come to fruition.
Those residents will host a dedication ceremony on June 8 at 10 a.m. for the Middlesex Global War on Terror Veteran's Monument at 1 Hollis St.
The structure has been seven years in the making due to a lengthy fundraising process with the goal of $200,000 and is meant to honor the fallen military members and those still serving in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
The monument features a small rotary walkway surrounding a five-point star representing the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard.
Surrounding that walkway are five benches while at the center of the star is an upright piece of granite. It features an life-size outline of a "warrior" walking towards a flag pole with the American flag flying high. The "warrior" is walking away from filled-in outlines of Afghanistan on one side of the granite and Iraq on the other side, symbolizing the "warrior" coming home. The piece of granite will be on a pentagon block filled with concrete, though the concrete will have combat boot prints scattered on the pad to show other making the trek home and those who could not.
Some of the five benches surrounding the monument represent specific military servicemen and women. One pays tribute to the 19 Navy SEALs killed in the Afghan mountains in 2005 during Operation Red Wings, one honors the fallen police officers and fire fighters who died during the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 and one to honor two fallen Groton military servicemen: Army Staff Sgt. Darren Cunningham and Sgt. William Woitowicz.
The other two benches were donations, one from the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes organization and the other from 1A Auto.
Jean Connolly, chair of the monument committee, said Monday that the "warrior" is meant to encompass all members of the military branches. According to Connolly, the idea for the monument came seven years ago from veterans at the local VFW post.
"Veterans said, 'You should think about getting a monument for the guys who are just coming home,'' Connolly said.
The design of the monument was done by Lee Rich of Waltham, who Connolly said sat with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan for four months to discuss ideas for the design.
When that was settled on, Connolly and the GWOT had to reach the price tag of $200,000. Connolly said that number was reached through donations and fundraising efforts, one of them involved having veterans from any of the US Armed Forces who donated more than $75 to the cause could have their names on one of the bricks that surrounds the base of the monument. The payment of the benches also came from donations, though Connolly said the rest of the money was a long time coming.
"When you're trying to fundraise for something and only have $80,000 for the first two years, it was disheartening," she added. "Once we put up the partial monument last fall, it really started snowballing."
Kathy Sherman, co-chair of the monument committee, said that she joined the fundraising efforts for the monument four years ago and also felt the struggle for fundraising.
"Every time we set up for a fundraiser we'd ask people, 'Do you know about our monument?' and people were like, 'nope,'" Sherman said. "It was just about getting people to know about us. Sometimes you've got to build awareness to bring attention."
Construction on the monument started last September and after the dedication ceremony, all that remains will be final landscaping work. Connolly expressed pride and excitement with the monument's near-completion, especially as a mother of a Marine who served in Afghanistan.
"I'm a parent of a combat veteran so I felt very strongly about the monument," she said. "It's dedicated to the families and what they went through. For every mother of a veteran, all they want is for their child to be remembered."
Jon Winkler: firstname.lastname@example.org