GROTON — After 18 months without a commemorative plaque, supporters of the Carol G. Wheeler Memorial Park in West Groton have begun to wonder if a marker will ever be placed at the site established to commemorate the life and heroic death of the Korean War veteran.
At issue is a plaque that had been planned for the park located in West Groton Square, which was to have included Wheeler’s name and some biographical information.
Heavily attended by over 100 neighborhood residents, town officials and members of Wheeler’s high school class of 1951, the dedication ceremony took place in September of 2004 and capped efforts by a Dedication Committee to locate the park on public land overlooking Thompson’s Pond.
At the time, supporters were told that eventually a bronze plaque in memory of Wheeler would be placed at the site but since then, nothing has happened.
The lack of action has prompted questions from former members of the Dedication Committee including Richard Cleary and Jane Chalmers.
“It took 50 years to find a proper place to be dedicated to this serviceman who gave so much to his country,” said Chalmers in a recent letter. “Is it going to take that long again to have this park recognized?”
According to Cleary, when the Dedication Committee was dissolved after the dedication, responsibility for placing a plaque at the park was taken up by the Parks Commission.
“They’ve done things like this in the past and said that they would do it,” Cleary said. “Everyone’s been after them to do something. I’ve talked to selectmen, the Parks Commission and several people around town and so far there has been no action.”
When asked about plans for a plaque, Parks Commission member Donald Black said the group’s intention is to have one in place by Memorial Day.
“Placing the plaque at the park will be done this year,” said Black. “We’re just waiting for the wording.”
Black said that he has asked Cleary to suggest wording for the plaque but when Cleary had presented him with simple birth and death dates and Wheeler’s service as a Korean War veteran, he was disappointed.
“I have asked the Dedication Committee that was responsible for bringing the Carol Wheeler Memorial Park together to come up with wording for the plaque but I don’t have it yet,” said Black. “I just don’t feel it’s my place to do it. Rather, I feel it should be someone who knew him.”
The parks commissioner said he had hoped for more details in the wording about Wheeler’s life and service in Korea.
“We disagreed on the wording,” said Cleary. “I was just trying to follow along with what was done with other memorials in town.”
Carol G. Wheeler, a resident of West Groton, joined the United States Marines in 1951 just before graduating from high school. He was killed in action the next year somewhere in what is today North Korea where allied troops held ground before a peace treaty set the boundary between the communist north and the democratic south at the 38th parallel.
Wording aside, perhaps the most important factor in the delay of getting a plaque placed at the park is money.
Black said that the cost for a stone and accompanying plaque will cost in the neighborhood of $900 to $1,100.
The problem is that while the Parks Commission has no funds in its budget specifically earmarked for a plaque at Wheeler Park, neither does the now defunct Dedication Committee.
Agreeing that the park has gone long enough without a proper marker, Black said it’s the intention of the Parks Commission to use whatever funds it might have left over at the end of the current fiscal year to pay for a stone and plaque.
In the meantime, said Black, nothing practical can be done until the local stone yard opens on April 17.
After that, if all goes well, Black said he hopes to have a plaque placed at Wheeler Park by Memorial Day.