Williamstown, Vermont, expressed its gratitude to its military sons and daughters this Veterans Day with the dedication of the Williamstown Veterans Memorial Park downtown.
Granite quarried right in Williamstown will provide a place for healing and remembrance, and could also help educate community members on the wide range of needs facing veterans, including homelessness, brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, according to committee members who worked to develop plans for the park.
"Now they've got something that's permanent here-- that makes a big difference," said Curtis Whiteway, 90, a World War II Army veteran who helped liberate concentration camps at the end of the war.
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Whiteway called the strong turnout to the dedication, on a cold and rainy morning, a testament to all the hard work and fundraising Williamstown has put into making the tribute a reality.
"Vermonters are proud people," Whiteway told necn. "And they support the men and the women who are in the military. We knew when we were over there in Europe fighting that our people were behind us."
Several speakers at the ceremony referenced how the event was actually 94 years in the making.
Becky Watson, a member of the Williamstown Veterans Memorial Park Committee, said the idea for a monument and park honoring veterans and war dead from Williamstown went back to 1921, and was originally planned as a World War I monument.
"There was a lot of arguments about where it was and what it was going to be," Watson said of the initial proposals 94 years ago.
Delays, subsequent wars, changing politics, concerns over the cost, and more all seemed to combine to push the memorial project off for nine decades, until land that formerly belonged to the Vermont Agency of Transportation became available to the town. Then, Watson said, finally the will was there to get the project rolling.
"That was the impetus that really got everyone started again," Watson said of the town obtaining the parcel of land from the state. "It's very wonderful to see the community come together like this."
Community groups and individuals held fundraisers such as coin collections, an auction, raffles, and other efforts to raise money. Many people purchased engraved paving stones which also helped fund the effort, the committee noted. About $30,000 in cash gifts were listed in the event program, but many more donations of labor and materials, such as concrete or landscaping, were critical to the success of the project, Watson said.
Committee members thanked a long list of businesses and individuals who donated services or materials for the project, including Rock of Ages, who gave the granite for the monument and posts, and Spruce Mountain Granite, who manufactured the monument and pavers.
Even the youngest members in attendance at Thursday's ceremony understood how significant the day was to the town. Williamstown students played patriotic music, sang songs, and read the names of donors to the project.
"I think it's really important to honor them because they fought for us," 9-year-old Abigail Paronto, a Williamstown elementary schooler, said of veterans.
The memorial committee is not done with its work yet. Members said they plan additions to the park, and have several more projects slated for 2016.
For more information on the project, you can visit the effort’s Facebook page.