Veterans groups in Williams County are uniting to raise $800,000 to build a complex at the fairgrounds in Montpelier in honor of the county's war dead.
Organizers hope the facility will be more than a place for citizens to visit on Memorial Day and other patriotic observances. They envision an indoor museum with plaques displaying the names of fallen soldiers and exhibits of uniforms, weapons, and other military paraphernalia.
Next door to the octagonal memorial, which will be 44 feet across, planners want to build a 60-by-102-foot hall that can be rented out for meetings, wedding receptions, and other events.
"It'll be an active memorial, rather than just a statue sitting off to the side," said Robert Walkup, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War and commander of American Legion Post 307 in Pioneer.
The Williams County Fair Foundation, a private nonprofit agency that works on fairground improvement projects, lent its tax-exempt status to the fund-raising effort, said William Gipe, a foundation member. When the facility is completed, it will be turned over to the Williams County Fair Board.
"It's actually a central location in the county," Mr. Walkup said, "and it belongs to all the taxpayers of the county."
Mr. Walkup said the idea for a memorial grew out of discus-sions he had with other Williams County veterans, and a book written about the county's war dead by local historian David Lupien. He said a radio commercial he heard one day in his car for an event being held at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Ind., gave him the idea for a complex at the fairgrounds.
"I thought, 'That's what we need here,' " he said. "I thought it'd be kind of neat to have something at the fairgrounds. People will not be forced to visit, but they'll be on the premises right there, and they'll be able to explain to their kids, and the schools will be able to use it for history lessons."
Mr. Lupien, who is heading the fund-raising campaign, isn't a veteran but comes from a family of servicemen. His father, Philip Lupien, Jr., was stationed with the Army in Germany from 1953 to 1956, and his grandfather, Philip, Sr., was an Army engineer in Greenland during World War II.
"I myself never had to serve," Mr. Lupien said. "I graduated right after the Vietnam era was completely done and went to college. I always thought I had an obligation to honor these guys, because they made it possible for me to make that choice."
According to Mr. Lupien's research, Williams County has 673 war dead, beginning with 51 soldiers who died during the Mexican War in the late 1840s and ending with 13 servicemen killed during the Vietnam War.
The Civil War took the greatest toll on the county. From 1861 to 1865, about 10 percent of the county's adult male population served with the Union Army, and 459 were killed in combat.
"I don't believe people realize how many we lost," Mr. Lupien said.
Besides honoring the county's war dead, organizers of the memorial project also want to recognize servicemen who died in peacetime. "It'll be for everyone who's ever given their life for Williams County," he said.
The project committee hopes to raise the needed funds in the next year and a half. So far, the effort has brought in $225,000, including $140,000 from American Legion Post 307.
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