NEW LONDON, Iowa — Six granite tablets surround a monument dedicated to the fallen soldier, indicated by the helmet balanced on the stock of an upright rifle. Behind the monument sits three flagpoles and a much larger sign piece that reads New London Veteran Memorial Park.
On Saturday, Memorial Park and everything it represents will be celebrated during a dedication ceremony scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m. sharp. For the committee and volunteers who have spent the past four years making Memorial Park a reality, it's a dream come true.
"It's magical," said Memorial Park committee member Larry Meagher. "This is something veterans have talked about for a long time."
Exactly 250 names are inscribed on the six granite tables — names of proud veterans who spent at least a portion of their lives in the tiny town of New London. Since the 60-foot-by-60-foot park was created in honor of New London service veterans living and dead, many of the inscribed names belong to the living.
"You don't have to be dead to be on there," said Meagher, who served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.
Creating such a monument wasn't easy, and it required the resources of the entire town and a good number of the people in it. Though Meager said the project cost about $90,000, that figure doesn't factor in all the volunteer labor and supplies from the people and companies that put it together.
"It took the whole community," said fellow committee member and Korean War veteran Jim Pickle.
The committee in charge of the veteran memorial was formed in 2011, the year after Meagher and some of his veteran buddies floated the idea of doing something special for those who served. The city recently had come into possession of an old ramshackle house on Main Street that needed to be demolished, and former mayor Mike McBeth and the council agreed to hand it over. Meagher and Pickle traveled to various veteran memorials around Illinois and Iowa before forming a committee, so they knew what they wanted.
"Our biggest hang-up was getting the house torn down," Meagher said. "In a way, we're surprised it came together as quickly as it did. We were looking at five years."
The committee certainly isn't complaining. Fye Excavating donated their time to take down the house in May 2012, while the planning and design of the park was contributed by site contractor Dan Meinen Construction. All of the ground was replaced with concrete, while the city volunteered to take care of the water and electricity running through the area.
"The city was great to work with," Meagher said.
World War II Navy veteran and New London resident Arnold DeJaynes designed the main sign piece, which was constructed by Boecker Masonry out of New London. The granite slabs that bear the names of local veterans were provided by New London resident Eric Snyder, who works with Family Care Service out of Muscatine. About 30 more veterans names will be carved on the slabs at a later date, and that list likely will grow longer as more New London veterans discover the park.
"The park is for all veterans, but it is dedicated to New London veterans," Meagher said.
The project was pretty much complete by fall of last year, though there are several features that will be added after the dedication, including two granite statues modeled after real Iowa Army National Guard members. Meagher is hoping those will arrive in June, and he wants to have a metal rail up around the backside of the park by the time the dedication ceremony starts.
"The statues will be life-sized," Meagher said.
Mayor Ron Sadler and McBeth will speak at the ceremony before introducing the entire memorial park committee, which also includes Alisha and Howard Hudnall, Sandi Brecht, Judy Weigard, Mervin Raines, Earl Horn, Ron Baron and Dave McGregor. Meagher said the project wouldn't have come together without contributions from the Pennebaker Foundation and the Enhanced Henry County Community Foundation.
The memorial park is located at the corner of Main and Pine streets across from the New London City Park, and the Dover and Depot museums will be open during the celebration. Food will provided in the city park following the ceremony, where the Iowa Army National Guard band The Brass Five + will perform.
The ceremony will be held at the Linkin Center if it rains.