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Crow Wing County Board: Veterans memorial update moves ahead

This drawing shows the All Veterans Memorial once updates are complete. The monument on Laurel Street in Brainerd was first erected in 1989. Submitted by Brainerd Community Action

After a four-month journey by sea from India, seven new granite slabs destined for display on Laurel Street in Brainerd are now stateside.

The arrival of the smooth, black granite brings plans to update the All Veterans Memorial stationed outside the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse one step closer to completion. Former Brainerd Community Action Executive Director Nancy Cross offered a progress report on the project Tuesday to the Crow Wing County Board. Cross said it's proceeding as planned, with one new design element included.

"The very center where people will walk in, on the ground there will be 16-by-16 (inch) granite, gray slabs that will honor all the veteran organizations in this community," Cross said.

Plans to update the memorial began nearly two years ago, when a group of cross-generational veterans sought to honor more recent conflicts. The group teamed up with Brainerd Community Action, and although Cross retired from that post earlier this year, she continued her work with the group. The memorial as it stands recognizes those who fought up through the Vietnam War.

Included in the plans are adding slabs honoring the Cold War, Persian Gulf War, Afghan-Iraq conflict and the war on terrorism. The other side of the addition, facing Laurel Street, would include "All Veterans Memorial" in large letters and would recognize the ideals of freedom, peace, sacrifice and patriotism. One slab would show a bald eagle carrying an American flag.

The additional monument would mirror the one standing, creating a circular place visitors can walk into and sit on benches.

Commissioner Paul Thiede said it'd been a long time since the memorial was previously discussed at county board, but he recalled addressing some of his concerns with the design.

"I didn't like the two-tiered approach," Thiede said. "It seems to me that no matter how you do that, the front of that is to Laurel Street, and you're somehow diminishing the (back)."

Cross explained the plans for the large "All Veterans Memorial" engraving across five of the slabs, while the other side—facing the conflicts already honored—would recognize the additional conflicts.

"I'll take that as you listened to my concern," Thiede said. "I really felt like, when I saw that design, I felt as though we were picking and choosing which seven theaters would get the most play."

In April 2016, when the matter came before the board the last time, Thiede did question the design of the memorial. His suggestion at the time was to rotate the memorial 90 degrees, making it more open to the street.

"As a veteran, I don't want any of my words to be construed against the memorial," Thiede said at that meeting. "It almost seems to me like those panels should be rotated, so that you're not blocking (them) out, which there's a lot of people blocking out our past history the way it is."

"Moving the current stones would be astronomically expensive," Cross replied at the time, noting the design was proposed by an architect.

Cross clarified after Tuesday's meeting the plans had not changed since the previous April concerning the placement of the conflicts on the slabs. She said the idea was to have all conflicts facing inward, so people can walk into the center and reflect.

"We wanted it someplace that was very quiet and reflective," Cross said.

The updates are expected to cost $100,000 and will be 100 percent funded through donations, Cross said. One way the group plans to solicit funds for the ongoing maintenance of the memorial is to sell personalized engraved bricks. Funders will have the opportunity to engrave a brick in honor of a family member, for example, and those bricks will form the walkway into the memorial's center. The bricks would model those at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, offering three lines of text to pay tribute to loved ones.

How to support the memorial project

Wish to help with fundraising efforts for the All Veterans Memorial update? Contact Brainerd Community Action at 218-829-5278 to learn how to make a donation.

Stop into any Brainerd area service clubs—such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion—or the Crow Wing County veterans service office to fill out an order form for an engraved brick.

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