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Open house offers more details about veterans tribute

Leader-Telegram - 2/6/2020

Feb. 6--More than 100 attendees gathered Wednesday evening to learn more about the upcoming Chippewa Valley Veterans Tribute that will begin this summer.

The Eau Claire County Veterans Tribute Foundation and city of Altoona held an open house to provide initial designs and answer questions about the tribute that will be located at River Prairie in Altoona along the Eau Claire River.

Groundbreaking on the first of the project's four phases is slated for June 12, with a goal to finish that phase in September and have a dedication ceremony in October, according to Mark Beckfield, president of the foundation and an Eau Claire County Board supervisor. A large "Old Glory" American flag will also be put up soon near the future site.

Phase 1 will cost about $700,000 and include a "wall of tears" along with an honor mall next to a field of hundreds of gray and red "legacy stones" made of granite. Gray stones can be purchased with a veteran's name engraved, and red stones will include names of people from Eau Claire County killed in action dating back to the Civil War.

In total, the tribute is estimated to take four years and $2.2 million to complete. A tribute trail will eventually be built, and it will begin with the Civil War and feature monuments for the 13 American wars since. The trail will also include statues, a water feature honoring prisoners of war and an area supporting Gold Star families. Beckfield said the trail will be at least 1,900 feet long and about 12 feet wide upon completion.

Foundation Vice President Angela Deutschlander said the phases will be paid for as the requested funding comes in and said donations have been "rolling in steadily." Indeed, Beckfield said more than $1.5 million has been raised so far.

Deutschlander, an Air Force Veteran, said it has been rewarding to see the positive reactions of veterans who have supported the initiative from the beginning.

County Board Supervisor Pat LaVelle is one of those veterans who feels appreciative the project will start soon. LaVelle served in the Army reserves and plans to purchase a legacy stone.

Ralph Palmer is a veteran living in Chippewa Falls and expressed his gratitude that the tribute is coming to fruition. He served in the Marine Corps and will likely purchase a legacy stone.

Palmer believes it is important for these types of tributes to exist "so that history is not forgotten."

Beckfield said the tribute aims to honor veterans, educate the public and remember individual sacrifices.

Palmer and LaVelle mentioned the importance of honoring veterans, especially those who served in the Vietnam War and did not receive a particularly warm welcome upon returning to the country.

Beckfield said the focus is on the people affected by war, not the conflicts themselves. Likewise, Palmer does not believe the tribute glorifies war.

"It's a celebration of life, not death," Palmer said.

Altoona Mayor Brendan Pratt appreciates the interactive educational opportunities that will likely be part of the tribute, such as certain sections featuring QR codes that can be scanned on one's cell phone to pull up videos and websites.

Altoona was approved to serve as the tribute's location last summer after original plans fell through to construct it in Eau Claire. Most people involved said it has been a smooth process after the new location was approved.

Altoona City Planner Joshua Clements called building the tribute a highly impactful decision that could have a long-lasting impact.

Altoona City Council member Tim Sexton, a Marine Corps and Army National Guard veteran, believes the tribute will be part of the River Prairie area's expansion and said a challenge will be determining how to best handle that growth. LaVelle and Beckfield said the project could lead to economic opportunities such as hosting veterans' conventions.

Other challenges include bringing the project from a conceptual design to reality and determining how to integrate the tribute trail with the existing park and path. Since the tribute will be constructed in four distinct parts, Clements said that will be an ongoing learning process.

Overall, Sexton believes the focus should involve sharing stories about individual veterans, and he hopes the tribute can be something that "children can learn from and adults can be proud of."

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