Dedication Held For Brooke Veterans Park

WELLSBURG – As she addressed those gathered Sunday for the dedication of Brooke County Veterans Memorial Park, Joan Nicholson of Wellsburg recalled the tragedy that inspired its creation.

Her nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Michael J. Smith Jr., was killed in a skirmish in Iraq in 2004. Nicholson was attending a community memorial service for Smith at the Wellsburg Town Square when Howard Armstrong spoke of honoring all Brooke County veterans and paying special tribute to those who lost their lives while serving at wartime.

Nicholson encouraged Armstrong to pursue that goal, offering to assist with fundraising. He then contacted Nancy Strope, who volunteered to organize dinners, dances, bike runs and other events to raise funds for the project.

Nicholson said the park’s completion shows “if you have hope and faith and the will, you can move mountains.”

Brooke County Prosecutor David B. Cross recalled the first meeting of the Brooke County Memorial Park Foundation where Armstrong, he and others recalled fallen veterans in their own lives.

Cross’ father, also named David, was a ball turret gunner returning from a bombing mission over Germany when his plane went down over the English Channel. His father was 22 then, and he was less than a year old, Cross recalled before addressing the many who turned out for the dedication.

Armstrong noted more than 60 area residents, organizations and businesses have pledged donations of $1,000 or more, and 267 have sponsored granite pavers for its walkway. Still many others have supported the park through other donations, and all are appreciated, he said.

The result of the group’s work and extensive community support is a $171,180 memorial site overlooking the paddleboat pond at Brooke Hills Park and featuring several monuments:

  • A polished granite wall bearing the names of 186 local veterans who died while serving their country in military conflicts and 27 who were prisoners of war.
  • A 7 foot tall and 4 foot wide cast bronze statue designed by Canadian sculptor Tim Schmalz. On one side the wings of an eagle frame a scene of a soldier accepting a reddish pink flower from a young girl, with many other service members behind him.

In a telephone interview, Schmalz said it was customary for residents of towns liberated by Allied troops during World War II to give flowers in appreciation, with a small child making the presentation.

On the other side the wings of a dove frame a scene of tombstones representing military graves, an image of a peaceful European village behind them. A reddish pink flower has been placed at one of the graves.

Schmalz said the eagle is appropriate because it represents for Americans’ valor and national pride, while the dove is known as a symbol of peace.

  • A monument to Smith with his likeness taken from the last photo taken by his mother, Marianne Smith of Wintersville, before he was killed.
  • A stone recognizing sponsors of $1,000 or more and members of the foundation’s board of trustees.
  • Ledgers representing Flanders Field and Arlington Cemetery. The two burial sites were suggested by foundation member Paul “Bud” Billiard, who said as the burial site of many Americans killed while defending France in World War I, Flanders Field symbolizes all American veterans buried abroad, while Arlington National Cemetery represents all those buried in the U.S.

Several cherry blossom trees line a cement stairway from a parking area above the park, and an asphalt road extends from the north end of that lot to the site, with a small parking area at the foot of it.

Crews with Danny Hukill Contracting of Weirton built the steps, a walkway through the site and foundation under the supervision of Ernie Stucin and Charles “Poke” Beall, both members of the foundation. The business performed a significant amount of the work at no cost, said foundation leaders.

Local contractor Mark Van Horn recently finished laying the pavers, though the group is accepting sponsorships for another 230 to support the park’s continued maintenance.

Brooke Hills park board President Walter Ferguson, son Brian and grandson Jason installed lighting to highlight the park at night, while still more volunteers planted the trees and performed other landscaping.

The foundation recruited many local veterans for input in the park’s design and assistance in identifying those who served.

Among them was foundation board member John Chernenko, who was captured by the Germans after fighting in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.

Because of illness, he was unable to attend but wanted to express appreciation on behalf of veterans and particularly POWs.

Everybody worked really hard on it. They all spent a lot of time on it,” said Chernenko.