RUSSELLVILLE — The third and final phase of Veterans Memorial Park — building a pavilion — should be underway in March, said Bill Eaton, a member of the River Valley Veterans Coalition.
He said the coalition is waiting on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of architectural plans for the pavilion.
“The parking lot is paved, and one leg of the Walk of Honor is intact. As soon as we get that [Corps of Engineers] approval, we will start construction of the pavilion, and things will really move fast,” he said.
Ground was broken in September 2015 for the park on a 3-acre site in the Bona Dea Trails and Sanctuary at 399 Lake Front Drive in Russellville. The park is at the east end of the area near Old Shorty Trail.
“I know some people feel like it’s taken an awfully long time, but our intention was, and it still is, we will build it as we can afford to pay for it,” Eaton said.
The park, originally estimated to cost between $500,000 and $600,000, is a joint effort between the city of Russellville and the Corps of Engineers. The Russellville Advertising and Promotion Commission gave the coalition a $14,000 mini grant to kick off the project. Eaton said the project is being funded with several other mini grants and the sale of tiles for the Walk of Honor.
The 240-foot-long walk will be about 11 feet wide, and curbs will be built at an angle, Eaton said. The walk will be covered with 12-by-12-inch granite tiles that people may buy and have engraved in honor or memory of veterans. A former mayor of the city, Eaton is a Vietnam veteran and served in the National Guard.
He said 300 tiles have been sold, 60 tiles have been installed, and spaces are prepared for 39 more.
“We’re going as far as we can on Phase 2, the Walk of Honor that attaches to the pavilion. We don’t want to go any further with those walkways so we can ensure that they will match,” he said. Bob Hiegel of Russellville is the architect.
He said members of the coalition went last week to pick up the latest batch of tiles, which were engraved by a Fort Smith company.
Ken Harper, president of the veterans coalition and veterans service officer at the Pope County Veterans Service Office, said the tiles are $150 each. They can be ordered by calling (479) 968-6049 or by going to the office, 107 W. B St. in Russellville. A purchase-order form can be downloaded from The Marine Corps League, Lake Dardanelle Detachment’s website, mcl1310.com.
Harper, a veteran of the Navy and Army, said he and his youngest sister surprised their father, U.S. Air Force veteran Allen Harper, with a tile.
In turn, Ken Harper said, their father and mother bought a tile for Harper and his youngest brother, Steven, an Army veteran.
“We wanted to get dad a tile because he’s always been our hero, and for he and mom to buy tiles for me and my youngest brother was an expression of their love and admiration for us and our service to this great country,” Ken Harper said.
“Some individuals don’t think that their enlistment in the National Guard or Reserve or service during the Cold War qualifies them to be along the Walk of Honor with those who served during a war and/or in combat.
“As a member of the armed forces, we don’t get to decide what happens where, or who may be deployed. Those decisions happen in the Pentagon. The gun was always loaded; sometimes the trigger just never got pulled,” he said.
“I’ve heard the same thing said over and over: ‘I think anyone who wore a uniform deserves to have your names engraved in granite or bronze or something, because you all stood up and defended our country,’” Harper said.
Harper said the tiles have been installed for free by the Arkansas/Oklahoma Carpenters/Millwright Training Center in Russellville. He said it is a “good possibility” that the apprentices will build the
50-by-50-foot steel pavilion at no cost to the city.
He said Ed Wright, who is in charge of the training center, is working to get materials donated or at a discount.
“His people will get hands-on experience, and we’ll get the pavilion, and it won’t cost anything, hopefully,” Harper said.
Eaton said the pavilion will include a stage that will have built-in scaffolding where lighting, sound systems and more can be brought in to use. The pavilion will also contain an educational component — compartments dedicated to major wars and conflicts in U.S. history, beginning with World War I, he said.
Harper said he has been thinking about this year’s centennial celebration marking the end of World War I.
“Last year, I was thinking, ‘What can we do? What should we do?’ Centennials don’t just happen every day,” Harper said.
Harper said he thought of Flanders Fields, battlefields in Belgium where tens of thousands of poppies are planted as a memorial to the war.
“The Pope County Master Gardeners will help us plant poppies out there,” he said. “I think it will be eye-catching and pretty cool to commemorate the centennial. We’re really looking forward to the spring; we hope we have the perfect amount of rain so the poppies will really show out for us Memorial Day.”
Mayor Randy Horton said Veterans Memorial Park is a nice addition to the city.
“We appreciate our veterans around here and are not bashful about showing it,” Horton said. “To me, this is a really proper way to demonstrate that.”
Eaton said the park will never truly be finished.
“I don’t think it will ever be done. I think what we anticipate is, as I used the word, perpetual. … Most of us involved in the process of making this happen are veterans of that area. We are represented and supported by veterans of all ages — World War II veterans all the way to present veterans,” Eaton said.
“We anticipate that there will be other things, and it is what we’ve intended all along — that there will be other things added to this park. It’s a memorial park; there will be no military paraphernalia. We’ve said that from the beginning. There will be no guns or tanks or military vehicles,” he said.
“We want it to be a place for reflection and events that commemorate people who served and those who have been lost,” he said, “and not glorify things that caused that to be there in the first place. We believe, without any doubt, that there will be those partners of our River Valley Veterans Coalition who will pick up the mantle and continue this for a long time.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.