ORLEANS — The veterans memorial stones at Academy Place help townspeople remember those who fought in the nation's wars. And now the time has come to remember the stones themselves.
Kevin Higgins, who chairs the Veterans and Memorial Day committee, and member General Jimmy Dishner appeared at last week's selectmen's meeting to ask for approval “to take a long, hard look at the entire memorial,” in the chairman's words.
The triangle bordered by Route 28, Main Street and Academy Place in front of Orleans United Methodist Church held the first Snow Library building. It's home now to World War I, World War II, and Korean War/Vietnam War monuments as well as a Coast Guard ship's bell and a Liberty Tree.
“As I was walking around the memorial stones,” Higgins told the board Nov. 7, “I got to looking at the entire (site), and I thought it was rather disjointed... None (of the monuments) really mirror each other. They're all facing the intersection, not into the center of the triangle itself. My thought was, wouldn't it be great to reconfigure it and make it a little bit more friendly place to visit?”
With the state intersection project providing new sidewalks around the site, Higgins noted, it's timely to consider an upgrade, including turning the World War I and Korea/Vietnam memorials so they face into the green. Even without such a major effort, there's work to be done that Higgins noted in a series of photos.
At the elegant World War I memorial, “on the left and right of the names, the concrete has started to collapse,” he said. “I don't know if it can be repaired. It's almost as if a part of the memorial is going to shear off and fall.”
Higgins said the World War II memorial “is in pretty good shape,” but “if you look at it east to west, it's pitched forward.” There's also a dangerous crack in the pavement behind the monument, and Higgins spotted another crack in the walkway to the Korea/Vietnam memorial, where the monument's “brick veneer is flaking and breaking off, front and back.”
Toward the other end of the triangle, the Coast Guard bell “is in general disrepair,” Higgins said. “It hasn't been washed and needs to be painted. The whole memorial square needs some TLC.”
Higgins said he has no complaint about the parks department's work and is aware that it's been “decimated with loss of personnel,” and he praised the good efforts of American Legion Post 308. With his committee responsible only for two days of commemorations a year, he said members “are more than willing to do the work” if their charge could be amended to include that responsibility. In so doing, he emphasized, “we don't want the parks department to be upset.”
“The committee right now is in charge of the ceremonies, but I don't think anybody is in charge of the memorials,” Selectman Mark Mathison said. A couple years ago, he said, he talked to DPW/Natural Resources Director Tom Daley about conditions at the triangle, and Daley “did send people down to scrub them and get moss and lichen off, and it looked much better. This should be something that has its own caretakers.”
Calling the site historic, Selectmen Chairman Alan McClennen said it would be eligible for Community Preservation funds. “Let's hire a landscape architect,” he said, “appropriate money to figure out what we need to do, and then a year from now come back and say this is the amount of money we need. Let's organize it so it is the center of Academy Place.”
The board agreed to look at a revised charter for the Veterans and Memorial Day committee that would make it a monuments committee as well and to put together a funding application to the Community Preservation committee. The selectmen also approved paying for the addition of missing names to the Korea/Vietnam memorial.
The request to the Community Preservation Committee could include funds to digitize names of veterans of the conflicts, something Selectman Kevin Galligan encouraged. He suggested looking into a memorial area for those who served in the Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars as well, noting that some communities honor them under the umbrella of “the global war on terrorism.”
The attention is timely, he said, because “we are losing a thousand vets a day from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.”