DARLINGTON, Wis. — Had local high school students been left to their whims and had access to a bottomless pocketbook, the Darlington Area Veterans Memorial might have featured cascading waterfalls or a series of eternal flames or even doubled as a skate park.
But the monument’s planners opted for something decidedly more modest.
“They came up with some pretty unique ideas,” Greg Bykowski said.
“Very expensive ideas,” said Dan O’Brien, laughing.
Both U.S. Army veterans, the men served on a nine-member committee that oversaw the fundraising for and construction of the memorial, dedicated on Veterans Day in 2012.
Bykowski, an art teacher in Darlington Community Schools, enlisted the assistance of his students, who pitched 22 proposals. The committee narrowed the pool of designs, borrowing elements from each. It took them 2½ years to gather the $190,000 necessary to finance the project.
“A special part for me is we’ve got the start of the Constitution and the start of the Declaration of Independence built into it,” O’Brien said. “I think it really helps focus people onto what the whole point of it is.”
A wall of 2,800 names engraved into black granite encloses the grounds, on which a star and the Great Seal also are located.
“When you make a commitment to the service, it is a mind, body and soul thing,” Bykowski said. “Part of the design is the way it envelopes you.”
On Monday, America will honor the service of all veterans as part of the annual Veterans Day holiday.
Known originally as Armistice Day, the date marks the signing of the armistice with Germany on Nov. 11, 1918, at the conclusion of World War I. The holiday’s meaning shifted in 1954 to recognize veterans who served in subsequent conflicts.
Communities throughout the tri-state region have erected memorials to honor the armed forces, often holding ceremonies on those grounds in observance of the holiday.
Although the designs vary, they incorporate symbols of patriotism, universality, self-abnegation and loss, offering visitors an opportunity to reflect, honor and even grieve.
Veterans Memorial Plaza on Chaplain Schmitt Island in Dubuque honors veterans from across the tri-state region who fought in American conflicts, from the War of Independence to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The late Louis Kartman, a Korean War veteran, envisioned the project, which ultimately took 2½ years to complete at a cost of $500,000. The memorial was dedicated in 2009.
A planning committee appropriated features of other memorials across the country, which were refined with assistance from Dubuque architect Marty Johnson, of Straka Johnson Architects.
The final design incorporated flags, granite pillars that highlight different wars and a curved wall that showcases the emblems of each military branch.
A black globe serves as a symbolic centerpiece, reflecting the global impact of military conflicts and sacrifice.
“If it’s just totally static, it’s not very effective,” Johnson said. “It needs to have some dynamics to it and obviously stir emotion and be respectful. If it can be a teaching moment, that’s even better.”
Many veterans expressed hope that area memorials impart a sense of sacrifices made by service members to those who lack military connections.
An engraving at the New Vienna (Iowa) Area Veterans Memorial states, “Freedom is not free.”
“I don’t think our kids today realize what our veterans did for us in WWII and in Korea and in Vietnam,” said Gerry Westhoff, an Iowa National Guard veteran who saw the memorial to completion.
Local veterans organized a dedication ceremony in 2018. At the time, 620 names were engraved on black granite tablets. This year, another 50 will be added.
But even a memorial has limits.
John Dutcher said viewers can see names chiseled into stone, but they might not know the life stories contained within them.
Dutcher helped oversee the effort to construct the Platteville (Wis.) Veterans Memorial, which consists of fiberglass statues mounted to podiums in City Park. Each figure commemorates those who served in American wars.
Veterans Memorial Park in Galena, Ill., contains a metal cutout of a praying soldier, memorial benches and flags.
Although the design is modest, “it’s all for the same reason,” said Dave Oldenberg, a veteran of the U.S. Army who maintains the park. “To show respect.
“It’s nice to try and make everyone appreciate the cost of freedom.”