ORLEANS — Townspeople remember the service of their military members every Memorial Day and Veterans Day at Academy Place, sometimes in such numbers that they spill out of the triangular piece of land at Route 28 and Main Street. Now there’s a plan to reorganize the monuments that recognize those who served in the nation’s conflicts and create a space well suited for reflection on their sacrifices.
Memorial and Veterans Day Committee Chairman Kevin Higgins won approval from the board of selectmen March 4 to pursue a plan to name the location Veterans Memorial Park at Academy Place, and to further investigate turning the World War I memorial and a new Korean War memorial so they face the World War II memorial rather than the street. Vietnam veterans, now remembered on the Korean stones, would get their own memorial. Higgins and his committee have plans as well for landscaping the site with a pathway lined with benches.
Higgins said the name change would reduce confusion about the location of Memorial Day and Veterans Day observances. People who are told to go to Academy Place, he said, sometimes wind up at the Academy Playhouse instead.
Selectman Kevin Galligan supported the name change and said it’s important that the “Academy Place” portion of the designation be preserved. “This location did house a school that was called the Academy,” he noted. This was also the site of the Snow Library before it was destroyed by fire in the 1950s.
Town records, as excerpted in “4,000 Years of Life in Orleans” by Russell R. Jalbert, show that Academy Place has a long history of hosting war memorials and that it was given a related name decades ago. In 1920, the town voted $3,000 “for a suitable monument to the citizens who were engaged in the World War.” Records from 1954 note that the town designated the former library lot “for use as a public park and to name said property ‘Memorial Park.’” In 1980, $2,500 was appropriated “to erect a memorial for Korean and Vietnam veterans.”
A reorganization and reorientation of the memorial stones has been discussed by his committee, Higgins said. “The World War I monument faces away from the World War II monument,” he noted. “I had a veteran ask me why the World War I veterans ‘are turning their back to us.’” It appears the existing orientation was to make both the World War I and Korean War monuments accessible directly from the Main Street sidewalk, but Higgins said the site would be more cohesive if they were turned inward. If that were done, the chairman said, the town should consider creating new and separate Korean and Vietnam conflict memorials. “They’re two separate theaters of operation, two separate wars,” he said. “They really should be separated.”
Moving the two outward-facing memorials isn’t as simple as it sounds. “They don’t seem to be particularly rugged. The World War I appears to have been struck by cars at some point and restored. It’s concrete with brick inlay or marble. The Korean/Vietnam is made out of fireplace veneer brick that’s falling off and needs to be replaced.”
One option includes new inward-facing Korean and Vietnam memorials in separate locations connected by a meandering pathway to the World War II and turned World War I memorials. There would be room to honor at some future date veterans of the Middle East conflicts of the last three decades, and to relocate the buoy bell that honors the service of the Coast Guard. With the changes, visitors “would be within the park itself,” Higgins said. “You’d have the ability to approach and walk up to the monuments,” or sit on a facing “reflection bench.”
The committee would like to see a non-profit Friends of Veterans Memorial Park organization created to raise funds, perhaps through sales of memorial bricks on the proposed walkway. Higgins asked that anyone interested in setting up such a group send him an email at email@example.com.
Community preservation funds could provide additional help, given the site’s centuries of history. “The transatlantic cable ran parallel to Academy Place,” Higgins said of the means by which America learned of the invasion of France by Germany. And when “the HMS Newcastle deposited a bunch of British Marines in Rock Harbor (during the War of 1812), they drove our militiamen right past that triangle. Not until we got everyone together did we drive them back to Rock Harbor.”
Academy Place “has got a tremendous future,” said Higgins. “Anything we do now is here for generations to come. We’d like to make this the gem of Orleans.”