Tremont City honors veterans with park on site of burned post office

Every evening David Foster drives three short blocks to the new Tremont City Veterans Memorial Park to water the flowers.

He drives because he and his wife, Debbie, have to haul the water with them.

Foster volunteered for the job for the same reasons he helped build the park.

“Because I love my country,” he said as he got choked up. After a pause, he added, “I love my village.”

Foster sometimes returns after dark to reflect in the glow of the solar-powered lights atop the three flag poles.

“You just feel the people with you,” he said, again fighting back tears. “You really do.”

Those close feelings veterans have for fellow veterans and the fallen are why the park was built. Donald Hatfield, an Army veteran, owned the land where the park stands on West Main Street. It’s the site of the village’s former post office that burned down on Nov. 5, 2014.

>>RELATED: Post office in Clark County opens new location after fire

When it was decided the post office would be relocated, Hatfield offered to donate the land to the village on the condition a veteran’s park be built there. Village leaders agreed, a committee of six veterans was formed and the park hosted its first Memorial Day service five weeks ago.

“I’m very pleased,” Hatfield said. “They’ve done a fine job in the limited time they’ve had and with limited funds.”

The committee of Foster, Tony Flood, James Clippinger, Mark Hunger, Ed Generous and chairman Steve Heider raised money and accepted material donations for about a year before breaking ground in April on the lot at the corner of Main and Mulberry streets.

“We put a lot of sweat in it, a lot of hard work,” said Flood, who can see the park from his front porch. “But honestly it was enjoyable work.”

The park is marked by three flags — Ohio, American and POW-MIA — on 25- and 35-foot poles, a granite stone that bears the name of the park and walkway bricks dedicated to veterans who came home, those who didn’t and those who are still serving.

“This is just a small little portion I can give for what that says,” Heider said as he pointed at the granite stone that reads ALL GAVE SOME, SOME GAVE ALL. “I lost several friends when I was in Vietnam. I find peace, serenity, maybe a little closure even. It’s the kind of a feeling that I can’t explain.”

The committee wants to raise another $15,000 to complete the park. They’ve already spent close to that much through donations, raffles and 53 memorial bricks, which cost $200 for square-foot sized ones and $50 for 4-inch by 8-inch ones.

They want to add a gazebo, extend the walkways, plant a privacy hedge, install a split-rail fence along the sidewalk, make it wheelchair accessible and add more benches.

Flood said he has been motivated in two ways.

“To show these guys the appreciation I’d say they never got,” he said of his friends who are Vietnam vets. “And the second thing is it beautifies the ever-loving out of the village. We took a disaster and created something special from the ashes of it.”

The town of nearly 400 people has one of the oldest Memorial Day parades in the country and will celebrate its 150th in two years. The park has given the parade a new destination instead of the cemetery. Heider and Flood said this year’s parade finished with the streets packed with far more people than they remember ever seeing at the cemetery.

During the ceremony, a new local chapter of Quilts of Valor, started by Denise Skaggs, awarded nine quilts to veterans. Guilds representing Urbana and the Miami Valley combined to award five more. There are eight on the waiting list.

“It’s really helped bring our village together,” Heider said. “It’s always been a tight-knit little community, but now people just want to come up here and sit on a bench.”

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