Has Blowing Rock’s Memorial Park grown empty of purpose?

Has Blowing Rock’s Memorial Park grown empty of purpose?
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By David Rogers. October 21, 2018. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Loving someone often means that you want to protect them. Fathers, especially, want to preserve the innocence of their children for as long as they can.

I saw the scars on his body, but Pete, my father, always dismissed them as part of living. He was a hard-working oilfield worker, so I figured those healed over lesions on his chest, back, stomach and buttocks were just part of the occupational hazard.

I knew that Pete had served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He just said that he flew around the Carribean as an “MP”, protecting Army payroll shipments. It sounded like the best duty in which to serve during a global conflict. I envisioned beaches, bikinis, and piña coladas between flights.

So when I flew to California last month to deliver his eulogy (he passed away September 8th at age 94), I was shocked at a story offered by one of Dad’s drinking buddies.  It was about when Pete first joined the Army.

Now Pete was an Oklahoma farm boy who with his family had survived the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. He was smart, but dropped out of school after the fifth grade when his father died suddenly. Somebody had to work the farm and his younger brother was just a toddler. His other siblings were older sisters and the five of them were already doing what they could to keep the farm alive, to make ends meet.  My father was only 10, but ten-year-old boys grew up fast in those days, often out of necessity.

Pete was born on February 22, 1924, so he could only have been 17 or 18 when he enlisted in the Army, leaving a cowpunching job on a ranch in the Texas Panhandle that he had started at 16, so he could send money home.  The United States was at war and needed more than a few good men (and women) to fight on two fronts: against Hitler’s expansive plans to dominate Europe and Japan’s military and economic aggression in the Pacific.

Will, that drinking buddy, recalled for the memorial service audience of about 120, “Pete told me that as soon as he finished boot camp his infantry battalion was put on ships bound for the South Pacific. ‘I don’t even know what happened,’ he said. ‘One moment we were arriving in the theatre of war and the next minute I was waking up in a hospital ship.’ After Pete recovered from his wounds and injuries, he was assigned to MP duty, guarding payroll in the Carribean, he told me.”

My father was one of the lucky ones. He told Will that he never found out about what happened to the guys he was serving with, most of whom he had barely gotten to know. He knew that many of them perished on that first day in the South Pacific.

Hundreds of thousands have died in their service, many more have been wounded and had the rest of their lives impacted, if not compromised by the scars of war, just like my father.

At least every Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and even the 4th of July, we are prompted to remember those men and women and so many like them throughout the history of our nation, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice if need be to defend the freedoms that we still enjoy.

It only takes a quick “Google” search to discover that there are a great number of “memorial parks” in the U.S., just like Blowing Rock’s Memorial Park, to honor the military veterans who, for more than 240 years, have served to defend the United States of America. Hundreds of thousands have died in their service, many more have been wounded and had the rest of their lives impacted, if not compromised by the scars of war, just like my father.

Wikipedia reports that there have been some 1.4 million U.S. military deaths in service and more than 1.5 million wounded over the years. During World War II, my father was one of almost 671,000 wounded, escaping the fate of his fellow soldiers who are listed among the more than 405,000 who died during that war.

I mention these things today because our increasingly dysfunctional Blowing Rock Board of Commissioners lost a sense of perspective at their recent October meeting in rejecting an outright gift from Morganton-based Foundation Forward. It is a non-profit that has set out to remind and inspire young and old alike to remember the “Charters of Freedom” upon which this nation was built. Accepting the gift wasn’t going to cost the Town of Blowing Rock a penny except setting aside a relatively small space as a “setting” for life-size replicas of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.  As Foundation Forward principal Ron Lewis told the Commissioners in a September presentation, “Most people in the U.S. don’t get a chance to see the actual documents in the National Archives, in Washington, D.C….”

Each setting offered by Foundation Forward costs them between $25,000 and $65,000 to construct in the place of the targeted municipality’s choosing. The amount depends on the type of material (i.e. limestone, brick, or granite) used for the setting’s construction (also the municipality’s choice).

On July 2, 2014, the first Charters of Freedom setting outside of Washington, DC’s National Archives was dedicated by Foundation Forward in Burke County, in downtown Morganton, NC. Since then, the organization has constructed and dedicated other settings in North Carolina’s Cherokee, Buncombe, Jackson, Bertie, Yancey, Swain, and Macon counties.  In the works are settings in Brunswick, Caldwell, Catawba, Mitchell, Wake, Ashe, Transylvania, McDowell, Madison, Yadkin, Beaufort, Haywood, Clay, Graham, Rutherford and Avery counties. What are those municipalities seeing that our supposed representatives aren’t?

Why is Blowing Rock so arrogant?

But the Foundation Forward effort to inspire Americans to understand how this nation was born is not stopping in North Carolina. Settings are already completed in towns and cities located in Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, and South Carolina, with even more in the works in those states, as well as Arizona, Tennessee, Virginia, Delaware, and Hawaii.

So why is Blowing Rock so arrogant to thumb its nose at Foundation Forward’s largesse?

To his credit, Commissioner Doug Matheson was the first to speak up and stated that he liked the proposed gift and wanted it to be at Town Staff’s suggested location in Memorial Park, near the 1888 Museum. But, he qualified, he didn’t think the Town should be spending any money.

“I’d like to see it done,” Matheson said, “but I can’t see us spending money on it.”

Commissioner Albert Yount pointed out that the Foundation Forward group first went to Watauga County and did not get approval.  Town Manager Ed Evans clarified, “They came to Blowing Rock because they love Blowing Rock and its foot traffic, and because of a lack of response (from Watauga County).”

Mayor Charlie Sellers reported that in his research there seemed to be either miscommunication or no communication (from the County), “So they wanted to bring it to (Blowing Rock).”

Commissioner Sue Sweeting started the negativity by saying, “Personally, I think it is too big for the Town. The end pieces are 4×4 and the middle piece is probably three times that. I just think we have limited space. Our children in 8th grade go up to Washington, D.C. and can see the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in person…and any 10-year-old with a (smart)phone can look it up. It is just too big for our town.”

Asked for comment by Sellers, Commissioner Virginia Powell said, “I’m not interested in it. I don’t think it fits Blowing Rock, our little mountain village. I’ve got four kids. I want more space for (them to) play…They could go to Morganton or Asheville and see the ones in place there.”

How big is too big?

Matheson acknowledged Sweeting’s and Powell’s negativity but advanced a motion to accept the gift anyway, stipulating that the Town does not spend any money and that it be placed at one of the two suggested locations near the 1888 Museum.

Knowing that a second to Matheson’s motion was not going to come from the absent Commissioner Jim Steele or from either Sweeting or Powell, there was an awkward silence as all eyes in the room fell on Commissioner Albert Yount, who remained silent throughout. The motion died without a second.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You can review the Board of Commissioners’ discussion about this issue and the entirety of the October meeting by CLICKING HERE. The Charters of Freedom agenda item begins at 32:15 (32 minutes, 15 seconds) into the meeting.

Size matters?

How big is too big when bringing to life the documents upon which our nation was founded?  Sweeting once again failed to do her homework because Blowing Rock School 8th graders no longer visit Washington, DC on a field trip — and haven’t for at least several years. One young man who graduated from Blowing Rock School acknowledged to Blowing Rock News the next day, “My older sister went to Washington on that field trip, but they had discontinued it by the time I came along. That was almost seven years ago.”

Is the American Legion Building too big for our little village? How about an intersection-sized plaza with monuments that commemorate four historically iconic (but still operating) businesses where Laurel Lane meets Main Street?  Somebody better paint over the mural on the side of the old fire station because however clever and artistic it is, being double-garage door size is just too darn big for this little village.

What do we do about that monster, the Martin House, or Blowing Rock Art & History Museum, or Mayview Plaza?

Is the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum too big for our “little village”?  After all, it may be bigger than Town Hall and the Community Library combined. If an estimated 20-foot by 10-foot corner of Memorial Park is too much to ask as a way to pay homage to our American forefathers’ wisdom, maybe we should reconsider the Hanna Building, Kilwins and, while we are at it, Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church and St. Mary of the Hills. They both seat a couple of hundred people, so surely they are too big. It’s a good thing that the big ol’ white building with the columns is coming down already, but what do we do about that monster, the Martin House?

Size is a relative measurement. In an age when so many people seem to have forgotten the principles, even virtues upon which the United States of America was founded 240 years ago, an opportunity to honor what our military veterans have fought for, in a park that supposedly honors them, is now an opportunity lost. The cynic in me suggests that any idea brought to the Town by town manager Ed Evans is going to be opposed by Sweeting because she has worked against him since not voting for his hiring — and her recent leading of the ill-conceived, extremely amateurish “town manager evaluation form” is just the most recent example.

If Powell’s kids are actually playing in that relatively small corner of Memorial Park by the 1888 Museum, she needs to tell them that there are safer places to play away from Main Street.  A little higher in the center of the park is playground equipment. There are swings and slides and climbing walls on which to romp around. On the other side of the park, there are basketball, tennis and pickleball courts.

It is shocking that Yount does not grasp the importance of what so many other municipalities around North Carolina and in other parts of the U.S. have embraced.  Those towns, cities and counties accepted an inspirational gift that costs them nothing except a small corner of a park, a gift that brings to life the very charters of freedom that brought the principles for which my father and so many others, including Yount, have risked their lives: our freedoms, our liberties, our rights, and our responsibilities as American citizens.

So many decades ago, Blowing Rock’s Memorial Park was reserved downtown to honor the military veterans who have served — and continue to serve — to protect the liberties and rights we cherish. Collectively, the sacrifices made by our military personnel over the years to defend the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence that set everything in motion…well, that is a pretty big deal.

It is not enough for us to just pay lip service to what our founding fathers created.  Understand what “We The People” means and why it is worth fighting for. Since we now won’t have life-size replicas of the Charters of Freedom, please come to the Gazebo on Veterans Day and Memorial Day to hear one of Col. Bill Parker’s stories of heroism and bravery in the face of danger by a military service man or woman. Then maybe you will understand what “Memorial” means.

If all you are doing is waving a flag on the 4th of July, it is not enough.  If all you are doing is taking your kids to Memorial Park to play, you are not doing enough.

And that is how we see it.

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