When members of American Legion Post 263 get together in New London, they take a trip down memory lane. Now, they're trying to preserve that past by creating a lasting tribute to the men and women who served.
"We would like to see this wall in an area of our community where people see it and go by it almost everyday and to remember and honor those veterans and their service," said veteran Jim Jaeger.
About a year and a half ago, legion members took a fellow 94-year-old veteran's idea to build a veterans memorial wall to city leaders.
"Basically they said, 'Yeah, it'd be great if we could do this and here's the places you can do it with, but we don't have any money to pay for it.'"
So Jaeger and his buddies launched a fundraising drive. They've been holding brat frys and raffles, and they set out collection containers at local businesses.
"It's just really heartwarming to see small children come up to the donation bucket and put a few pieces of coin in the donation," explained Carrie Karow who serves on the memorial foundation committee.
So far, they've raised $32,000 of their $250,000 goal which is enough to set the project in motion. Crews have moved the 1920's war memorial to a different spot in Taft Park to make room for the new Veterans Memorial Wall that will overlook the Wolf River.
Anyone who served, even those who live out of state, can have their name etched in stone.
Jaeger says, "I think I was one of the first people to put the money in to get my name on the wall. It's just pride."
Robert J. Polaske adds, "I feel honored to be on it. I also have my brother's name on there. He's now deceased. He was a WWII veteran."
People can purchase legacy pavers, as well, that will outline the park. The area will also feature six bronze medallions that will represent the five branches of the military and the Merchant Marine, plus benches and a podium to hold Memorial Day services. Organizers envision a beautiful place to reflect on the past and celebrate the present.
"We honor the people that served not only in the war but in their communities and are still serving," says Jaeger.
Organizers hope the memorial will also inspire the next generation.
"We're setting it up so we can honor the vets of the future, the children now that will become vets," Karow says.
Leaders hope to have construction on the memorial completed in the next two to three years.
You can help the effort by attending the UW Varsity Band's fundraising concert on Sunday, March 6th from 2:00pm to 5:00pm at the New London High School gymnasium. Click here for more information.