Mending a marred memorial

Saturday, May 13, 2006

BENTON, Mo. -- Few people in Scott County realize a monument to the veterans of the Great War, World War I, sits on the Scott County Courthouse lawn.

For years the tribute to those who died in that conflict has gone neglected. Where water once ran in the fountains, weeds now grow. Where lights once illuminated the names of the dead, now there is darkness. Where the names of dead sailors once hung the plaque has fallen, leaving only a bare wall.

The neglect has occurred since the monument was built sometime between World War I and World War II. No other monument with the names of the fallen exists in the county.

This one hasn't gone unnoticed. Plans are being made to update the memorial with the names of all those who lived in Scott County and lost their lives in wars since World War I.

For people like Sikeston resident Marc Boardman the project is far overdue. A teacher at Kelly Elementary, Boardman was just a kid when his older brother, Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Boardman, was killed in a Viet Cong ambush in 1967.

Marc Boardman remembers learning to handle a shotgun with his older brother and making a costume together for a Jaycees contest out of papier-m‰chˇ. "I was at such a young age during the war," he recalls. "I watched the nightly news just to see if I could get a glimpse of him.

Occasionally Boardman's students at Kelly bring him the tracing of his brother's name from the wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., but he'd like to be able to see his brother's name immortalized closer to home.

The collaborative project started with the Scott County Commission. The commission ultimately will call on the services of veterans' organizations throughout the county to make sure no one who gave his or her life is left out.

"For the last few years it's been pretty heavy on my mind," said Presiding Commissioner Martin Priggel, who wants to see the update completed before he leaves office following the November election. "To me, anybody who gives their life for their country, they need recognition for it."

Priggel said the idea gained a new life when Dennis Ziegenhorn, the commissioner for the county's southern district, came on board in 2004. Like his partners on the commission, Priggel and Jamie Burger, Ziegenhorn feels strongly about the project.

Ziegenhorn is a member of board for Veterans Park in Sikeston. He's calling on the ties he has there to help with the logistics of the project like gathering names and financial support.

One of those ties is Blair Moran, a Vietnam veteran and chaplain of the Sikeston American Legion. Moran's primary duty will be to compile the names needed to make the memorial complete.

"I think it's going to be a pretty large undertaking," said Moran.

Moran plans to use veterans organizations throughout the county as a resource to assist with the project.

Joe Bles, commander of Scott City's VFW, hadn't yet heard about the project but looks forward to the day it's completed.

"I think it's something that needs to be done and should have been done a long time ago," Bles, also a Vietnam vet, said. "Nobody wants to get involved in stuff like that it seems like anymore. Patriotism has all but left our country more or less."

Cape Girardeau resident Gary Pennington wishes the update had come sooner. His family is originally from Scott City. He joined the Marine Corps to fight in Vietnam after his older brother Jack, a Marine private, was killed in the Tet offensive of 1968. His mother never got over her son's death, Pennington said.

Both of his parents, now deceased, would have been especially proud to see their son's name on a memorial, he said.

For Scott City Councilman Norman Brant the update carries a special significance. His older brother Gerald died in World War II, before Brant was born. He also knew Army Warrant Officer David Lee Blattel, who had a street in Scott City named after him following his early death to enemy fire in Vietnam in 1968.

"This is not only something we should do, this is something we have to do," Brant said.

While most of the project's early work has come from the county's largest city, Sikeston, the involvement of people in the county's northern half like Brant and Bles is essential, said Burger.

"The more input we have the more we make it a county project and get people from every town on every part of the project," Burger said.

For Priggel it's time to make good on an old promise before his time in county government is done. "We used to say when you join the service and you die, you get your name on the courthouse lawn," said Priggel. "That's the least we can do for people who have given their life."

335-6611, extension 182

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