WEST RICHLAND — Veterans in West Richland are upset about the theft of an M-16 rifle and a helmet from a war memorial.
The Tri-City Herald reports boots and a plaque are all that remain of the memorial at Flat Top Park in West Richland.
The rifle and helmet had been perched on top of the memorial for more than 12 years. Veteran Dan Richey lives nearby and was the first to notice the missing items as well as damage to what remained.
Richey reported the vandalism to police. West Richland police are investigating the theft.
"I'm appalled and dismayed," he said. "I can't believe we have individuals in our neighborhood who would do such a thing."
Bobby Dale Albers of Kennewick, sergeant at arms for Combat Veterans International Chapter 3, says the theft and damage go beyond vandalism to disrespect.
The memorial, which was dedicated Nov. 10, 2001, had an inverted rifle placed in the ground by its bayonet, with a real World War II helmet attached to the top of the rifle. With the boots, the sculpture resembled a temporary grave marker for a fallen soldier.
The plaque contains the inscription, "Freedom is not Free."
Flat Top Park is important to veterans because it is the site of the annual Time of Remembrance ceremony, which honors service members from Washington, Oregon and Idaho who died overseas.
Combat veterans want to repair or replace the damaged monument, Richey said. They might design it to be more resistant to vandals.