Remembering—North St. Paul Veterans Park gets finishing touches

Beyond the greeter monument, planners discussed final touches on Aug. 5. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Beyond the greeter monument, planners discussed final touches on Aug. 5. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
A path with history pillars surrounds the memorial. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
A path with history pillars surrounds the memorial. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
Dan Fisher in the jungles north of Khe Sanh, Vietnam, in 1967. (submitted photo)
Dan Fisher in the jungles north of Khe Sanh, Vietnam, in 1967. (submitted photo)
Dan Fisher, 68, displays early design plans for the memorial. (submitted photo)
Dan Fisher, 68, displays early design plans for the memorial. (submitted photo)
Carl Hurtgen, left, and “Stoner” standing outside headquarters in Cu Chi, Vietnam, July 1969. (submitted photo)
Carl Hurtgen, left, and “Stoner” standing outside headquarters in Cu Chi, Vietnam, July 1969. (submitted photo)
The remembrance wall is decorated with the names of local fallen soldiers. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)
The remembrance wall is decorated with the names of local fallen soldiers. (Erin Hinrichs/Review)

Dedication ceremony Aug. 15

After nearly four years of planning and months of construction, finishing touches for the new North St. Paul Veterans Memorial are underway.

City staff and volunteers with North St. Paul Veterans Park, Inc. — the nonprofit of local veterans and volunteers formed to manage the memorial — meet at the site to make sure nothing is overlooked.

With checklist in hand, Dan Fisher, committee co-chair, asks for updates on everything from the concrete staining and landscaping to the flag orders and insurance coverage.

No one in the volunteer group has built a memorial before, but they’re no stranger to deadlines, perfection and teamwork.

“You’re back to working together as a team,” Fisher says of his veteran colleagues. “The team effort is really a good thing.”

On Saturday, Aug. 15, they’ll be hosting a dedication ceremony for the new North St. Paul Veterans Park, located at the intersection of Highway 36 and Margaret Street across from North St. Paul High School. The ceremony will start at 11 a.m., followed by a reception at the North St. Paul Legion. 

Having already witnessed bystanders exploring the monument during construction, Fisher says the highlight of the event will be the stories that unfold as people interact with the monument.

“They’ll start telling you stories about their family. Then you become a listener. Be prepared to listen because people are expressing themselves up there, [in a way] they never get to.

“Seventy percent of the pavers are grouped by family ... units or buddies. So it’s become a story of family history. There’s family pride.”

Four years in the making

Before Veterans Park, the site housed Central Park, which later became Cannon Park. Henry Castle, founder of North St. Paul and a Civil War veteran, had donated the land to the city In 1887.

In 2007, the Minnesota Department of Transportation annexed the property to rebuild Highway 36. The remaining plot remained dormant until MnDOT donated it back to the city.

Then in 2011, North St. Paul council member Terry Furlong, liaison to the Parks and Recreation Commission, gauged interest among local veterans in creating a veterans park.

With $5,000 in seed money from the city and the support of local veterans service organizations — including the American Legion Post 39, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1350 and the North High School Air Force Junior ROTC — a core volunteer group started planning and fundraising the following summer.

In 2014, the city secured $100,000 in bonding funds through the state Legislature to help construct the memorial. That same year, North St. Paul Veterans Park, Inc. acquired nonprofit status to ensure the memorial is well maintained in the future.

As of Aug. 5, the group had raised $134,456 through the sale of 690 individual pavers engraved with the names of veterans, 37 group pavers and five benches — all of which will be included in the memorial.

Contemplative design

While spectators are welcome to tour the park in private, planners hope people with engage with various elements of the memorial.

A 6-foot-tall black granite greeter monument welcomes visitors at the entrance. And a remembrance wall pays tribute to greater North St. Paul area veterans who were killed, went missing in action or were held as Prisoners of War.

The wall is encircled by a series of stone pillars that list each conflict local veterans have served in, along with a brief description.

“The design is meant to be contemplative,” Fisher says. “So when people go there, they look at the names and they look at the history of North St. Paul and they understand that all communities are tied into the nation. And the sacrifice and service of its citizens is extremely valuable and should always be honored.”

From here on out, new pavers will be ordered and installed once a year.

For more information about the ordering pavers, the memorial design or a play-by-play of the construction phase, visit http://nspveteranspark.org/memorialpark.htm.

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/EHinrichsNews.


On the ground with Dan Fisher, North St. Paul Veterans Memorial Committee Co-Chair

Dan Fisher, 68, is a native of the Frogtown area of St. Paul and a Purple Heart recipient.

He volunteered for service in the U.S. Marine Corps and was trained as a rifleman.

Fisher served in Vietnam for 13 months with the First Battalion 26th Marines, southwest of Da Nang and in Khe Sanh.

Fisher volunteered at age 19 “because I felt a sense of responsibility to my country in a time of need.”

The teen soon faced the realities of training and war. “The Marine Corps became real in boot camp, thorough training and focus. Then it became more real in Vietnam, and even more real as an infantry member,” he says. “Then it was really serious.”

Fisher, a sergeant, served from 1966-68 with the Marines.

After service, Fisher says he pushed those memories out of his mind, so he could focus on his next steps: raising a family and finding a job.

“When I came home, you weren’t getting a lot of pats on the back,” he recalls, noting the transition from battlefield to home is difficult for many.

A retired 3M employee of 35 years, he currently serves as co-chair of the memorial committee and is an active member of the VFW Post 1350 and the Fort Snelling Memorial Rifle Squad.  

“Service to others has become the focus in retirement years,” he says. “It’s a renewal of volunteerism and I think it’s a good thing.”


On the ground with Carl Hurtgen, North St. Paul Veterans Memorial Committee Co-Chair

Carl Hurtgen, 68, was raised on the East Side. He was drafted into the Army to serve in the Vietnam War in 1968 for 14 months, following the Tet Offensive. As a sergeant in the 25th division, he survived active combat, but saw one of his training friends die in the field. The entire experience haunted him long after he came home.

“I was still fighting in my dream,” he says, noting he felt isolated.

He married his fiancé of two years, who had written him a letter every day he was away, and started working for a phone company.

Over the years, he’s connected with other veterans through his involvement with VFW Post 1350 and, most recently, as co-chair of the memorial committee.

He’s looking forward to memorializing a bit of his own family history by bringing out-of-state family members to see the pavers he had engraved to honor his father and two uncles who served in World War II.

Hurtgen adds that the memorial offers not only a place to visit, but a way to meet others with similar experiences.

“I think it’s going to be very emotional for people to see this,” he says of the memorial. “I’m sure we’re going hear stories. I think that’s going to be the nice part about this.”

 

 

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