An oversized boulder served as the canvas for a monument honoring servicemembers at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Saginaw, just south of Pike Lake. That Purple Heart Monument, paying homage to members of the U.S. military injured in the line of service, was formally dedicated Friday afternoon under a sunny sky.
The newest veterans cemetery in the state just opened in 2018, but Duluth Honor Guard Capt. John Marshall said it is quickly making a name for itself, with the community investing heavily in monuments.
"There's no other state cemetery that has monuments like this. We have two mammoth monuments, unlike the other cemeteries," he said, noting that most others feature placards, interpretive signs and memorial benches.
"Nobody else has a Vietnam veteran walking the wall. Nobody else has an engraving of the Purple Heart and branches into a boulder larger than a Volkswagen. It's just that massive," Marshall said.
Supporters raised $8,500 to engrave the boulder and will spend another $5,000 for surrounding bench seating.
Marshall, a veteran who earned his own Purple Heart medal in the Persian Gulf, explained the memorials serve an important purpose.
"Doing these is important to perpetuate our military history," he said, noting that some local memorials have featured local military heroes, including Joe Gomer, a Tuskegee Airman who flew 70 World War II missions before settling in Duluth and David Wheat, who spent 7 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam before returning to his home in Duluth.
"We want to do these local stories and sculptures of very prominent people who served their country well and honorably," Marshall said.
Having a state veterans cemetery open next door to Duluth has been a blessing for Northland residents, according to Marshall
"The families can go and visit their loved ones. They don't need to go to Fort Snelling," he said.
"You know a lot of these old widows, they can't very well go down to Fort Snelling and visit a gravesite. So, this state cemetery being local allows these widows and family members to be closer to their loved one."