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Veterans' memorial reaches milestone

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By April Wright, Reporter

Military veterans Frank and Sharon Plichta of Galax have finally raised the first $110,000 — including $25,000 in city funds — to go towards the construction of the Twin County Veterans' Memorial to be built next to the Galax Public Library to honor and remember those who have served, but the couple is still short nearly $365,000.

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Until the couple met with architect Doug Williams to get a firm estimate, they were looking at raising $300,000. Now, they'll need about $500,000 due to the high cost of India- and Canada-imported black granite, said Frank, who hopes to have the venue complete in the next two years.

“We're losing World War II veterans in large numbers,” said Frank. “And most of those veterans are in their 80s and older. We want as many of them as possible to see this.”

It's been 15 months of hard work, and the Plichtas have almost one-fourth of the money needed. They've hosted golf tournaments, rubber duck races, bridge games, auctions and showed up at every local festival. However, the biggest fundraiser has been the sale of granite pavers, which has really taken off since the groundbreaking this Memorial Day — increasing from one or two purchased each week to about 10.

“Right now we're just trying to keep it before the public,” said Sharon, who has looked towards local media and festivals to keep moving forward. “That's our major goal.”

Granite pavers are one way that each local area veteran can be a part of this memorial, said Frank. The pavers, sold in two sizes for $100 and $300, will line the walkway in and around the monuments and include the name and information for those who serve or have served in the military, both living and deceased.

So far, they've sold more than 200, but the memorial should be able to hold at least 3,100 pavers. Frank and Sharon suggested that family members honor their loved ones through these pavers.

It's time to recognize that Americans wouldn't be here without the work of these veterans, said Sharon.

“We know there are at least 900 veterans living today in the area, based on the census” and 11,000 veterans past and present in the Twin Counties, which doesn't take into account those that served during peace time. “And men that served during peace time are just as important because they were the ones waiting on the front lines.”

One company, E&L Diamond, honored all its veteran employees by purchasing five granite pavers, and that's one way businesses can recognize employees in a special way, they said.

The plans include a 3,600-square-foot memorial with three granite monuments — one in memory of those who served, one to honor those serving now and one to remember prisoners of war and those missing in action.

The entrance features a 16-by-14-foot granite pillar, flanked by two flag poles. At the base is an opening representing the rising or setting sun and a three-tiered water fountain. Six black granite pillars will be arrayed in circle to represent the six branches of the military, with each pillar to bear the branch insignia.

The large bronze globe on a stone table in the “honor” section of the memorial will provide geographical information for veterans to identify their areas of service. Also, a reflecting pool and fountain will be placed in the “memory” section.

The “POW/MIA” section includes an empty granite chair, the symbol for prisoners of war and those missing in action. The chair symbolizes their absence and waiting for their return home.

It's flanked by two granite benches, where individuals may sit and reflect the fate of their missing loved ones.

Even though the construction may be more than two years away from even beginning, Frank already has in mind the first memorial service.

“Usually when you go to a Memorial Day service, it only lasts about 20 minutes with speech and prayer,” said Frank. “But that's pretty small when you consider the sacrifices they've made.”

At midnight, the start of Memorial Day, a candle will be lit on each paving stone for an all-night vigil, he envisions. People will be able to come and go throughout the night to honor those who have served.

At sunrise, the flag will be lowered to half-staff, as speeches and prayers take place during the day. At noon, the flag will be raised.

“This place will get used regularly,” he said, as each branch of the military can take advantage of the memorial for various services. “It won't be built and then forgotten.”

In February, Frank applied for four grants that support veterans issues, but hasn't heard whether they have been awarded.

“We know the grant process takes a while, and we're just hoping they'll support us,” said Frank, noting that federal money, like stimulus dollars, cannot be used for this project. That's why the Plichtas are relying on private contributions and local municipalities to support the effort.

Frank said the area veterans groups have been so good to step up and have been financially generous. The Plichtas are just hoping that the county governments can work the memorial into their budgets and get other people on board.

“We're going to need veterans and non-veterans to help to get it built,” said Sharon.

“We have the heart to build the memorial. We knew that it needed to be done and as long as the Lord gives us strength and health, we'll continue to pursue it.”

The Plichtas are working on holding the next fundraiser, a gospel singing, sometime soon, and they're asking for gospel groups to contact them about participating.

The Plichtas can speak at any civic clubs or churches about the Twin County Veterans' Memorial.

• For more information about the fundraisers, to make a donation, order a granite paver or volunteer, call 233-2179 or 238-9161, send e-mail to veteransmemorial@earthlink.net or see twincountyveteransmemorial.com. Someone with a knowledge of computers is needed to help with the Web site. Make checks payable to the Veterans Memorial Fundraiser, P.O. Box. 1023, Galax, Va. 24333.