Unlikely pair team up to honor St. Louis area veterans
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Mo. — Neither of the catalysts of the Mid-County Veterans Memorial Gazebo that will soon grace the grounds of the Richmond Heights community center served a day in the military.
One, in fact, vociferously opposed the Vietnam War.
Putting all that aside, Ken Heinz and Pat Croghan see nothing unusual about their role in turning a long-discussed project to honor St. Louis area veterans into a reality.
“We’re Americans,” said Croghan, a Richmond Heights resident and the architect Heinz enlisted to move the $250,000 memorial toward fruition.
“Whatever your position on whether we should be fighting wars, it’s incredible to think that as much as we love our freedom there are people who risked their own lives to make that possible.”
Once aligned with anti-war activists, Croghan nonetheless says he did so with a keen appreciation for those who served on his behalf — first and foremost his father, Matthew Croghan.
A Navy Seabee during the World War II occupation of Okinawa, Matthew Croghan long practiced dentistry in the St. Louis area after his military service.
Pat Croghan, 57, volunteered his services to design the hexagonal Mid-County Veterans Memorial Garden Gazebo.
Five of the sides symbolize the branches of the military; the sixth pays tribute to servicemen and women missing in action.
A dedication ceremony is scheduled for 1 p.m. Nov. 10, on the eve of Veterans Day.
Heinz, 64, also of Richmond Heights, last year formed a committee of veterans and civic and government leaders to examine ways to jump-start the project, which had been kicking around local veterans organizations for nearly a decade.
It was soon decided that financing would come from the sale of engraved paving bricks bearing the names of St. Louis area veterans coupled with funds generated by local municipal grants.
Richmond Heights, Frontenac and the St. Louis County Municipal Parks Grant Commission contributed money.
Heinz, a lawyer with a practice in Clayton, never served a day in the military.
Nor does he have a direct family tie to a service member or a connection to a war.
“It’s not about me, I’m just a patriotic person,” he said. “I think it’s up to nonveterans to honor veterans — that’s my philosophy.”
The veterans, meanwhile, couldn’t be more appreciative.
“I can’t say enough about Ken Heinz and his dedication to this project,” said former Richmond Heights Police Chief Rick Vilcek, a veteran of Vietnam. “He’s done a yeoman’s job on this thing.”
Vilcek, now a Richmond Heights councilman, served alongside Heinz on the memorial committee.
Ground was broken on Memorial Day, and the monument began to rise on the northwest corner of the community center parking lot in July.
Croghan and Heinz say the location near a facility patronized daily by hundreds of area residents is significant.
“We know that everybody puts flowers on Grandpa’s grave on Memorial Day,” said Croghan. “But this site is part of everyday living. It’s not like some out-of-the-way cemetery.”
Heinz hopes the gazebo will serve as a reminder of not only the fallen, but of veterans issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and the thousands of area men and women who committed themselves to serving the nation as well.
“It raises the public conscience about the sacrifices veterans have made” while honoring all veterans, Heinz emphasized.
As word of the memorial spread, Heinz began fielding calls from family members who have lost loved ones – including, memorably, the daughter of a pilot lost over Italy in World War II.
“They’re crying, and I’m tearing up,” said Heinz.
The nonprofit Veterans Memorial Committee believes it can raise the additional $100,000 needed to complete landscaping and other final touches to the site through the sale of the engraved paving bricks.
Information about purchasing a brick to honor a friend or loved one can be obtained by visiting vetsmemorial.org or by picking up a form at Richmond Heights City Hall, 1330 Big Bend Boulevard.
About 250 bricks have already been sold at $100 each.
Heinz said the bricks citing the service of two distinguished veterans — Jack Buck and Stan Musial – would receive prominent display.
But when construction reaches the phase of installing the initial commemorative bricks ?this week, the honor of placing the first stone will go to Pat Croghan.
A tribute to his father, the inscription reads:
DR E M CROGHAN
LT USN DENTAL CORP
The retired dentist — now 94 — will witness the moment.
“He wouldn’t miss it,” said his son.