FINDLAY - World War II veteran Russell Essinger can think of no better place to talk to school children and other groups about serving his country than at the Findlay Veterans Memorial.
“There hasn't been anything done on the mound for 50 years,” said Mr. Essinger, a 20-year board member of the Hancock Veterans Service Commission.
“There's a lot of work to be done here, but when it's done, I think it's going to be one of the most beautiful and distinctive war memorials in northwestern Ohio,” said Thom Bissell, project coordinator.
Mr. Bissell, a Vietnam veteran whose background includes defense design work and commercial illustration, designed the new memorial, a project that has met with some criticism.
Not everyone agreed with the decision to remove the white crosses, despite the fact they were deteriorating and created a “maintenance nightmare,” Mr. Bissell said. The city's tree commission wasn't too happy either to hear plans called for removing four mature oak trees, a white pine, and a cedar.
Ultimately, when officials saw the plans, they agreed the trees were not in the best spots. The mound where the trees were located will be lowered nearly two feet, but their roots would have been exposed had they not been cut down, Mr. Bissell said.
Plans call for planting seven trees on the mound as well as a semi-circle of arborvitae around the back of the podium and smaller shrubs along the perimeter of the memorial area.
Mr. Bissell envisions transforming the memorial first dedicated in 1935 into a park where visitors can sit, meditate, and feel closer to those who lost their lives in combat.
He said it will have a uniquely patriotic look with red walkways, white monuments, and a blue granite memorial wall that will include brief histories of the American conflicts.
“We wanted to have something different but still be respectful of why we have a memorial in the first place,” he said. “We wanted to put the emphasis on quality and humility.”
The initial phase of the project is being funded with about $100,000 from the veterans service commission. Mr. Bissell said the agency plans to ask Hancock County commissioners for $250,000 to complete the work.
Phil Sweeney, director of the veterans commission, said he anticipates the commissioners' support, in part because the veterans commission never uses all of the tax money allocated to it. Since 1992, he said, the veterans commission has returned more than $3 million to the county's general fund.
Mr. Essinger, who belongs to nearly every veterans organization in the county, said the VFW, the American Legion, and other groups support the memorial project.
“I think a lot of them are very happy that something's going to be done,” he said.
Each Memorial Day, a parade that begins downtown and proceeds to the cemetery on West Main Cross Street just off I-75, ends with a ceremony at the veterans memorial.
While the project won't be done in time for Memorial Day, officials hope that it will play a big part of future ceremonies.
Mr. Bissell said he hopes it will rededicated on Veterans Day in November.
Because they do not plan to re-use the white crosses representing Hancock County residents killed or missing in action, veterans' officials want to give them to relatives of the deceased.
Mr. Bissell said a decision has not been made on where veterans' names will appear, although they could be placed either on the memorial wall or on separate stones for each of the wars. He added that the memorial wall will include a blank panel.
“We're going to have a blank stone for future conflicts and hopefully we'll never have to use it,” he said.
Information about the project can be found on a web site created to chronicle its progress: http://memorialproject.onweb.cx.