QR codes help preserve detailed memories of veterans, fallen soldiers

“Quick response” codes have been around since the 90s, but New Carlisle resident Randy Ark and Dodds Monuments of Springfield are pushing to see the codes on more headstones and civic memorials.

Ark, a Vietnam veteran, has undertaken the development of Veterans Park in downtown Springfield as his personal mission to preserve detailed memories of local men who died in American wars via QR codes. Not only has he helped raise funds for the memorials to be installed, he’s also in charge of providing the content for the QR codes on each memorial. Passersby can pull out their smartphones, scan the codes, and will then be directed to a link with photos, historical context, and names of veterans memorialized by the monument.

“I control all of the codes from my computer,” Ark said. “I added pictures of all the people in the Purple Heart chapter, and added pictures people gave me, and notes to scan, anything. I also put info for veterans to connect to other veterans.”

Ark first learned about stamping QR codes on memorials from Josh Walters at Dodds Monuments in 2011, and said he believes QR codes are an invaluable way to remember heroes and maintain history. There’s only so much space on a stone to etch a tribute to veterans: QR codes are an easy way to supplement information.

The codes on the Purple Heart Memorial, War Dog Monument, Dog Tag Memorial, and Marines Memorial in Veterans Park redirect users to photos of fallen veterans from Springfield and Clark County, Purple Heart recipients from the local Purple Heart Chapter 620, and articles and notes offering background information about the memorials.

“We want to make it personal,” Ark said.

Ark is currently helping the city raise $400,000 to finish the park — right now there are only three memorials and one bench. Ark wants at least six more memorials installed, although he doesn’t have a timeline for their completion. A second bench will be dedicated in the spring to those who died in friendly fire in Vietnam.

But the Veterans Park memorials aren’t the only monuments stamped with QR codes.

At the annual rededication ceremony for the memorial of Staff Sgt. Wesley “Wes” Williams at Tecumseh High School on Dec. 10, attendees could use their smartphones to access a QR code stamped on Williams’ memorial when it was first installed. The link directs to Williams’ obituary, biography, family tree, and photos of him and his family. The memory of Williams, who was a THS 2005 graduate and died in Afghanistan in 2012, is kept alive by his wife Krista, who regularly updates the QR link with fresh photos and information.

“They rededicate it every year,” said Lars Williams, Wesley Williams’ father. “It’s beautiful what people have done. He’s never gone unless he’s forgotten.”

MSgt. Antonio Ruiz, who is the aerospace science instructor at Tecumseh High School for the Tecumseh Air Force Junior ROTC, pushed for Williams’ memorial to be installed in 2013, and said Williams is the only memorialized Air Force Junior ROTC member from the area.

Ruiz doesn’t have a smartphone to access the code on the memorial, he thinks the code enhances Williams’ memory.

“It keeps him alive for future generations,” he said.

Apart from civic memorials, QR codes aren’t as popular on monuments as Walters, a sales manager at Dodds, wants them to be. Each QR code costs $250, which includes the tag and access to the template to upload content. They have been available to attach to Dodds’ gravestones and memorials since 2010, but baby boomers are currently the primary market for gravestones, and they aren’t enthused about directing passersby to photos or additional information about their deceased loved ones. Dodds sold only 127 codes since 2010.

“It hasn’t grown as fast as I thought it might,” Walters said. “I see them a lot more on civic memorials, almost every one of those in Clark County has one on it, because it’s an educational and informational tool.”

Walters said he thinks QR codes on civic memorials will continue to become more popular than codes on gravestones, even as younger, more tech-savvy generations enter the gravestone market. Dodds is currently developing a new marketing program to advertise QR codes for monuments in the Springfield area, he said.

“The biggest benefit are civic memorials — I could see this on memorials in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “It would be a great self-guided tour.”

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