Effort revives Larimer County Veterans Memorial in Edora Park
On the southern edge of Fort Collins’ Edora Park, a semicircle of stone slabs sits in a clearing of massive evergreens.
Flanking a flag pole, the five flagstones are engraved in orderly rows of name after name – Lester Pierce, Percy Eckles, Joseph Martinez, Warren Stout.
The slabs go on and on, with over 300 names in total, recognizing all the soldiers in Larimer County who have been killed in action since WWI. Well, maybe not all of them.
Earlier this year, Linda White – a 71-year-old Vietnam War veteran and member of the committee that established the Larimer County Veterans Memorial in the late 1980s – realized that the name of a Berthoud soldier who fell in combat was missing.
US Army Spc. Gabriel Conde, 22, was killed in Afghanistan in 2018 and has not yet been added to the small stone slab in honor of local servicemen killed in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The discovery started an endless series of calls and emails for White, and by the end there will be some official clarity on who is responsible for the memorial going forward. Fort Collins Parks Director Mike Calhoon said a formal agreement on its long-term maintenance is underway. After that, modifications to the monument can begin to be allowed.
It’s true what they say about repeating history, as this new breath of life at the Larimer County Veterans Memorial began the same way the memorial itself did. over 30 years ago – with Linda White and a missing name. Well, the names.
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How the Larimer County Veterans Memorial began
At some point in the mid-1980s, White made his first hike to the old brick monument on Laporte and College avenues.
The aging structure, with a mast protruding from its top and glass plates lining its sides, had been there – sandwiched in a grassy median between the two avenues of the old town – since 1944, when it became the first memorial of the Larimer County veterans.
In the decades since its inception, increasing traffic from Fort Collins had started to engulf access to the median. But on that day in the 1980s, White decided to brave the busy intersection and read the Larimer County fallen memorial list. She was amazed to find some missing.
White, who served as a personnel specialist at the Vietnam Army’s Long Binh Post from 1969 to 1970, knew at least two men from Loveland who had been killed in the conflict but excluded from the memorial plaques.
Don W. Conn Jr., a 1964 Loveland High School graduate, was one of his first friends to enlist, White recalls, speaking in Colorado by phone from his Wellington home last week.
Conn became a field radio operator in the United States Marine Corps and was killed in action in Vietnam’s Quang Tin province on June 9, 1966. He was 19 years old.
“It rocked the boat in Loveland when he was killed,” White said, adding that she knew Conn was growing up and recalled cruising College Avenue with him as a teenager. “It was hard on the whole community.”
Arlon Schaeffer – whom White knew through his younger brother – was a classmate of Conn in Loveland High School and ended up enlisting in the US Marine Corps after him.
An outstanding wrestler, half-back on the high school football team and all-star hurdle, Schaeffer’s name was frequently found in the Colorado athletic section in the early 1960s.
In 1968, his name will appear again in its pages. Schaeffer, a combat engineer in his second tour of duty, died on September 24, 1968, after the vehicle he was driving in detonated a landmine in Vietnam’s Quang Nam province, his obituary read in October . He was 23 years old.
After her first visit to the memorial, White said she contacted the city of Fort Collins and Larimer County about the omissions and remembered how supportive and encouraging everyone was.
Kelly Ohlson, who was mayor of Fort Collins during the official campaign for a new Veterans Memorial in 1986 and 1987, recalls that the original memorial was nearly inaccessible on her Old Town island.
It had also become a target for graffiti and vandalism, Ohlson in Colorado recently said.
“It just wasn’t a quiet place and it wasn’t getting the dignity it deserved,” he said.
“(The city and the county) wanted to move the memorial and redo it, but there had been no (volunteers) to start it,” White said. “The minute I found those names missing, it generated a lot more interest and support.”
White was part of a committee to create a new memorial for Larimer County veterans. She recalls combing through the old military records submitted to the project as she and the other committee members reviewed the names of the deceased servicemen for inclusion in the memorial.
After Fort Collins City Council voted to reserve a slice of Edora Park for the memorial in 1987, it took about two years for its slabs to be carved and installed. On December 7, 1989 – the same day the old County Memorial was decommissioned in Old Town – the new Larimer County Veterans Memorial was unveiled amid a rally of veterans in Edora Park.
At the time, the new memorial included the names of local soldiers who fell in action during the Vietnam War – a polarizing conflict for the United States.
“Many families (of Vietnam War veterans) never wondered why their sons’ names were not on the memorials. They didn’t want to rock the boat, ”White said, adding that after the completion of the Edora Park County Memorial, the committee received several letters of thanks for including those killed in action during the War of the United States. Vietnam.
The committee also received enough donations from the community and local veterans to create a fund of $ 20,000 for the upkeep of the memorial, White recalls. A separate committee, Veterans Services Incorporated, was formed to oversee his long-term care, and White’s involvement in the project ended.
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What’s next for the Edora Veterans Memorial
In the three decades since the dedication of the Larimer County Veterans’ Memorial, time has passed, more wars have raged, and thousands of U.S. servicemen have joined the ranks of the dead.
In 2011, Fort Collins also hosted the expansive Veterans Plaza at Spring Canyon Community Park, which features an amphitheater, victory garden, and built-in stone walls with LCD monitors that visitors can browse to find the names of American veterans. .
Veterans Plaza quickly became the natural site for large-scale Larimer County Veterans events, including the recent installation of a temporary 360-foot Vietnam War Memorial Wall, which will be held until Monday for a special Memorial Day weekend tribute to Vietnam War veterans.
Focusing on Veterans Plaza, White worried the Larimer County Veterans Memorial might be forgotten. Earlier this year, as she tried to determine who was responsible for her update, she successfully pushed for the city of Fort Collins to put up two signs directing people to the peaceful arch of memorial stones.
White also quickly learned that as an aging county memorial sitting in a city park, responsibility for maintaining the memorial had become confused.
While the city of Fort Collins has mowed its lawns and tended its flowers for all these years, it turns out that the group created to oversee the memorial’s larger needs appear to be dissolved. The $ 20,000 fund created in the late 1980s to maintain the memorial was transferred to Fort Collins veterans of the Foreign Wars about ten years ago, according to Calhoon.
White contacted Ohlson for advice. Ohlson, coincidentally, was re-elected to the board this year.
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Thanks to White’s interest in the memorial, conversations between Ohlson, Calhoon, Larimer County and the VFW began to clarify the future of the memorial. A formal agreement on its long-term maintenance could be finalized as early as July, Colorado Calhoon said in an email.
“It was time (to build the memorial) in the ’80s because of vandalism and trafficking, and now is the time to clarify responsibilities and make sure it receives the dignity and attention it deserves. Ohlson said.
The Fort Collins VFW Post has expressed a desire to donate the $ 20,000 memorial fund to the city as part of this ongoing deal. This donation will be possible thanks to the City Give initiative, which has been in existence for two years, which oversees financial donations to the city and coordinates charitable activities in its departments.
City Give has already created a dedicated deposit account for the memorial fund and, once received by the city, the money will be used for the upkeep and maintenance of the memorial as well as the addition of names and orchestration of more programs at the memorial. , according to Nina Bodenhamer, director of City Give.
City Give will also provide the public with an official donation channel for the upkeep of the memorial. For more information on donations to City Give, visit their website, fcgov.com/citygive.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” White said of how everything turned out. “And I know I’m speaking on behalf of all of the (other committee members) – many of whom are deceased – who would be so supportive of what I’m doing.”
Once her work is done, White moves forward, as she did after the memorial was installed in 1989. She only had one last thing to do this month.
Earlier this year, while digging through her old documents from the memorial’s early days to the mid-1980s, she found something special.
This was the original telegram sent to retired Fort Collins printer Otto Hepting and his wife Beulah in 1945. He alerted them that their eldest son, the bomber pilot commander, Lt. Robert E. Hepting, had disappeared near Saigon. He was then judged dead, and 40 years later his family sent the telegram to the memorial committee to ensure Robert’s name would end up on the new memorial (it did).
Last week White had returned the telegram from the Heptings to Robert’s nephew so he could stay with the family. Whether it’s carved in stone or inked on a telegraph, every name counts.
Erin Udell reports on Coloradoan news, culture, history and more. Contact her at [email protected] The only way she can keep doing what she’s doing is with your support. Thank you for subscribing.