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Gary-New Duluth Veterans Memorial gets final touches

Dean Johnston (left) and Kurt Hendrickson, who work for Johnston Masonry, fasten a brass plaque with the names of Vietnam veterans onto the Gary-New Duluth Veterans' Memorial last week. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)

A year ago, hundreds of people gathered at the Gary-New Duluth Veterans Memorial to pay respect to those who have served our nation in war, and to rededicate the newly updated and expanded memorial.

People who attend today's Memorial Day event there will see a completed memorial. The permanent bronze plaques bearing the names of 515 veterans from World War II up to Iraq and Afghanistan were fastened to the memorial's new monument last week.

"It's very beautiful: gorgeous," neighborhood businessman Jim Shelton said. "All the guys involved did an excellent job. It's a great way to bring people in the community together."

The project entailed removing, cleaning and refurbishing the plaques from the original monument; construction of a new, four-sided monument; and the addition of benches, lighting, a new flag pole and a plaque honoring World War II Medal of Honor recipient Mike Colalillo. Landscaping included installing paving stones around the bases of the monuments displaying the names of donors.

The value of money, labor and materials donated for the project likely totaled more than $100,000.

"I am overwhelmed at the community response, how great it was," said Gary Bubalo, one of the organizers of the memorial project. "It's so nice to see the memorial getting the attention it deserves after so many years."

The Gary-New Duluth community dedicated a memorial 61 years ago to honor its residents who answered their nation's call during World War II and the Korean War. A partial list of Vietnam veterans was later added to the memorial's original monument to bring its roll of servicemen and women to 654 names.

There things stood, until Mark Boben and Bubalo -- both 1972 Morgan Park High School graduates -- talked about what they could do to help the community. Their thoughts turned to restoring the original monument, which stood in need of repair.

The idea quickly grew into building a second monument recognizing veterans from later conflicts and from beyond Gary-New Duluth. The new monument bears the names of veterans from Duluth's western neighborhoods of Gary-New Duluth, Morgan Park, Smithville, Riverside and Fond du Lac as well as Oliver.

"It's the right thing to do to honor veterans," Boben said.

Last year the new monument bore temporary plaques while Boben and Bubalo continued to gather names of area veterans. The permanent bronze plaques were cast at Duluth Brass earlier this month.

"They are really big," Duluth Brass co-owner Tom Holt said. "They are probably as big as we can go. They are 30 inches wide by 42 inches tall. And there are four of them," each weighing close to 100 pounds.

"I just want to compliment Mark," Holt said of the project. "He has done a real bang-up job on this."

Neighborhood resident Frank Bucar agrees.

"It's wonderful what they've done with that memorial," said Bucar, an Army Reserve and Air National Guard veteran. "It's tremendous to see what has happened out there."

The memorial also reminds people to thank those whose names are on its monuments, Bucar said.

"If it wasn't for them, it could be a different story in this country," he said. "This shows us to give thanks."

IF YOU GO

The Gary-New Duluth Veterans Memorial will be the site of a Memorial Day event beginning at 9 a.m. Mayor Don Ness and Vietnam veteran Brad Bennett will be the keynote speakers. The memorial is on Commonwealth Avenue (Minnesota Highway 23) at Stowe Street.