At the Central Texas Veterans’ Memorial and the adjacent area Thursday, a contagious mix of activity and optimism brewed.
Some of the activity was related to the upcoming Memorial Day ceremony at 11 a.m. Monday, where the absence of four of the memorial’s large granite tablets — which were shattered when they were toppled last weekend, possibly by high winds — will undoubtedly be acknowledged. Other activity was related to fundraising efforts and media interviews aimed at replacing the four tablets, at an estimated cost of $40,000 or more.
Those present Thursday, at various times, included media representatives; Brownwood Jaycees, who are helping with fund-raising to replace the four tablets; four Home Depot employees, who worked to install a chainlink security fence around the Huey helicopter parked on display adjacent to the memorial; and Harold Stieber and Steve Kelly, who are president and past president, respectively, of the Central Texas Veterans’ Memorial Board of Directors.
The loss of the four tablets will not diminish the Memorial Day ceremony, and may even enhance it, Stieber said. “We’re not discouraged by the loss,” he said. The board is committed to replacing the tablets, on which were engraved names of Brown County’s war dead, “to make sure those names are not forgotten,” Stieber said.
Kelly said the Brownwood Jaycees have volunteered to lead the fundraising efforts. “We are very appreciative, and they’re doing a great job,” Kelly said. “The Central Texas Veterans’ Memorial and our Memorial Day service are a salute to the sacrifice of the fallen heroes of Brown County, so we are very happy to have them as a partner.”
At least Three GoFundMe pages have been established to raise funds for replacing the tablets.
• CenTex Veterans’ Memorial Repairs, established by Kelly.
• Help Us Replace Our Memorial Stones, established by Dylan Hunter of KYOX 94.3 Radio.
• Operation Restore, established by Patrick McLaughlin, president of the Brownwood Jaycees.
McLaughlin said the Jaycees, in addition to sponsoring a GoFundMe page, are donating $1,000 and are planning other activities including a citywide raffle, and will set up donation jars at businesses. “That’s amazing to see the community step up to the plate like that,” McLaughlin said.
Weston Jacobs, whose family owns Weakley-Watson Ace Hardware, announced earlier that fragments of the shattered tablets will be available for auction at the Weakley-Watson store, with proceeds going to the cost of new tablets.
Stieber directed media attention to the activity surrounding the freshly painted Huey helicopter, where Home Depot manager Bert Medina and employees Barbara Gross, Scott Clarkson and George Stimson worked at no charge to complete the security fence. Home Depot donated the paint and supplies for the helicopter, and donated the material for the fence, Stieber said.
Home Depot got involved after Stieber noticed Gross “walking across the memorial one day,” Stieber said. “I think she said she had a toothache or had been to the dentist or something, and I happened to be out here,” Stieber said. “I wanted to visit with her and see what her impressions were, and see if she might have been in the military. And sure enough, she’s a Marine.
“And she asked, what do you all need? I said ‘I could use some paint, some supplies and a security fence.’ She said ‘we can do that.’ We made a proposal and submitted it to her superiors, and here we are, and we’ve even got the store manager out here digging holes.”
Medina, also a Marine veteran, said Home Depot stores throughout the nation participate in projects to support veterans. “Our company has very, very strong values. … with the ongoing war, we definitely love to do these projects for the veterans,” Medina said. “It’s for our men and women out there keeping us free.”
Stieber said the intent is to have the Huey project — including the fence and installation of Army decals on the helicopter — finished before the Memorial Day ceremony.
Late Thursday morning, Stieber placed a broom handle through a door handle on the right side of the helicopter, bracing the broom against the craft with the fibers facing the sky.
Stieber explained the significance of the broom: “In World War Two, when a Nay sub was on patrol and successfully sank enemy shipping, when they came back off patrol, they would take a broom and put it on the masthead and sail back into port, signifying ‘clean sweep,’” Stieber said. “In other words, they were successful in their mission. So this is ‘mission accomplished’ to finish this helicopter and put it on permanent display, for everyone to see and read about the history.”
Stieber acknowledged that there was still a little work remaining Thursday that will spill over into Friday, including the installation of the Army decals. So “not quite (mission accomplished), but close enough, brother,” Stieber said.