Work continues toward Battle Ground Veterans Memorial

Donations are picking up, and names of dead are being verified

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

 

Donations

The Battle Ground Parks & Recreation Department continues to take donations for its Veterans Memorial at Kiwanis Park. Information for the project can be found on the Veterans Memorial Project's website.

A year after securing permits to build a memorial to the city's fallen war veterans in Kiwanis Park, the Battle Ground Parks & Recreation Department remains firmly entrenched in the scrimp-and-scrape stage.

But the lack of sufficient resources for the donor-funded project doesn't mean work is taking a holiday.

Raising money for what's expected to be Clark County's largest shrine to felled troops is finding its footing, even if it's planted firmly in the past. The Veterans Memorial project -- with an estimated price tag of $125,000 -- has collected more than $17,000 in donations. It will create a curved wall featuring the names of Battle Ground veterans who died in combat.

Since May, Debbie Stiles-Lusk, a member of Battle Ground's Parks Advisory Board, has used a special set of skills and know-how to investigate the names of Battle Ground's war dead. Those skills, honed over a 14-year span spent as her family's official historian, allows Lusk to delve into the murky depths of history to determine who deserves recognition on the wall.

Take, for example, the case of John Tuke. The Civil War-era veteran was on a list of potential names for the wall. According to Lusk's research, Tuke was stationed at Fort Vancouver during the war. But he didn't die until well into the 20th century, meaning he shouldn't be included on the wall.

There are many other examples, Lusk said.

Lusk has spent at least 80 hours on the project since May, she estimates. That includes culling information from various websites and collating historical census data.

She downplays the work she's put in verifying the names of war dead. "I'm just an amateur," she said of her genealogical skills. So far, the list includes 13 names from World War II, one from the Korean War, seven from the Vietnam War, one from the Persian Gulf War and five from Operation Enduring Freedom.

The time-consuming background checks have helped raise money for the project, Lusk said. Although it's a city project, the Veterans Memorial will be paid for entirely with community donations.

"By having vetted everyone on the list, that helps people get behind donating time and resources," Lusk said. "They know we're serious."

In recent weeks, fundraising efforts have picked up. There have been three events held for the project in August. The most recent was a "yellow ribbon event," held Tuesday, in which businesses around town displayed yellow ribbons. They represented a promise to donate a portion of the day's earnings to the project.

That event added to the $17,000 the city has already collected, but the total amount hasn't been tallied yet.

The impetus for the memorial came from the death of Army medic and Battle Ground resident Andrew Shields in Afghanistan in 2008.

Councilman Mike Ciraulo, who was the city's mayor when the project got the go-ahead in 2010, called Shields a "fantastic young man" who served as a fire cadet. "He was like a member of our family," Ciraulo said.

The monetary donations don't tell the project's entire story, Ciraulo said, because a number of businesses and contractors have also agreed to provide in-kind services.

The process of collecting and verifying the names of veterans who died in war will be an ongoing one, continuing long after the memorial is built. There will be enough space on the wall to add names in the future, said Debbi Hanson, Battle Ground's Parks & Recreation Department director.

She said the work Lusk and other are providing is raising awareness about the Veterans Memorial. And although it's unclear when the project could break ground, Hanson said momentum is picking up.

"The hope is the project would go faster," Hanson said. "But with a year behind us, there's more awareness about the project in the community. We're starting to see a snowball effect."

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com