Project to honor WWII medical corps officer pushes forward in Wisconsin

By CHRISTENA T. O'BRIEN | The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis. | Published: May 11, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — The late Dr. William J. Beckfield was a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in World War II.

More than 30 years after his death, Beckfield's military service will be memorialized in a granite legacy stone in a veterans memorial park planned for Eau Claire.

"I'm learning so much about my father's history after he's gone," said Mark Beckfield, president of the Eau Claire County Veterans Tribute Foundation.

There also will be a stone in honor of his wife Cathy's late father, Norman Gutsch, who joined the U.S. Navy in 1952, serving as a sheet metal mechanic and damage control fireman and playing baseball with the USS Wisconsin team.

The tribute is planned on property north of Phoenix Park between the Chippewa River and Forest Street. It's to be built in three phases.

The first of those, which includes the Veterans' Tribute Trail, is going to be bid out soon, with construction starting this summer, said Jeff Pippenger, the city's community services director. The goal is to have the trail and a gathering area completed before Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

"This park will honor those who served, give people a chance to learn and provide a place for veterans to hold services," Beckfield said.

The foundation has formally requested the land be named Veterans Tribute Park, and the public is invited to offer their opinions on naming the land until Thursday. To do so, call 715-839-4649 or send an email to communityservices@eauclairewi.gov.

A recent $100,000 donation from Hardee's pushed the $2.2 million project over the halfway point, Beckfield said.

In 2011, CKE Restaurants Holdings, the parent company of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, launched its Stars for Heroes program, which encourages franchisees to collect donations from customers to support military-centered charities.

To pay for the remainder of the project, organizers just started pushing the 12-by-12-inch legacy stones, which cost $500 each, said Beckfield, noting the goal is to sell 300 to 400 markers not only to individuals and families like his but also to businesses and organizations wanting to show their support for veterans.

"I really think the legacy stones are going to be real movers and shakers for the project," he said.

People also can donate cash to the park or sponsor benches ($6,000), light posts ($4,500) and trees ($1,000).

The city of Eau Claire donated the land for the tribute and agreed to maintain it – mowing grass in the tribute area and clearing snow from the trail. The Eau Claire County Board also has approved a $450,000 donation to the project – $225,000 each in 2019 and 2020, and those behind the effort have applied for grant funding.

The park will include the Veterans' Tribute Trail, a concrete path 1,800 feet long and 12 feet wide. It will enable visitors to experience a timeline of American wars starting with the history of Old Abe, the war eagle of the Civil War 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, through to the conflicts of the present day.

The trail will be a place to educate visitors about those who came before them through historical documentation to actual stories from local veterans.


(c)2019 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)
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