Sun shines on Wanamingo Veterans Memorial Dedication - Kenyon MN: News

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WANAMINGO VETERANS MEMORIAL DEDICATION Sun shines on Wanamingo Veterans Memorial Dedication

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Posted: Saturday, September 21, 2013 9:06 pm | Updated: 3:44 pm, Tue Sep 24, 2013.

The sun’s rays beamed down on the shoulders of Mary Danielson-Gates as she spoke to a crowd of more than 600 at the Wanamingo Veterans Athletic Field.

“We have had our miracle, which some of you may remember,” she told them. “As we keep the faith, I ask that you continue to remember the POWs and MIAs often. Keeping the light on, as it is done here today, to raise awareness is important as we remember their commitment to us.”

Danielson-Gates was the keynote speaker of the Wanamingo Veterans Memorial Dedication on Saturday, an event that was in the making for more than a year. The memorial, erected near the entrance of the complex, was built to honor the 35 known Goodhue County POW/MIAs.

Danielson-Gates’ late husband, Benjamin Danielson, was in the Air Force and flying an F-4C Phantom Jet over Laos in 1969 when his plane was shot down and he and Lt. Woody Bergeron ejected from the aircraft and parachuted to the ground. Bergeron was rescued a couple of days later, but Danielson wasn’t found.

Thirty-eight years later the couple’s son, Lt. Cmdr Brian Danielson, flew his dad’s remains back to Kenyon on May 17, 2007. That was the miracle Danielson-Gates mentioned during her speech. She hopes more families can experience similar miracles.

That’s what board members had in mind when planning the memorial and what they wanted it to represent. They wanted it to mean hope, and they wanted it to remember.

“It’s beautiful,” said Danielson-Gates after the ceremony. “(I have) humble gratitude for such a job well done and for a place that we can come and be so proud of our men, too. There are just so few places — I can’t think of any that mark missing in action — and that is just a whole new ballgame. There are way too many families that sit and wait.”

The memorial, which Owatonna Granite and Monument was contracted for, started as an idea to simply replace the flag pole, but “one thing led to another,” said Larry Van De Walker, one of the five members of the Wanamingo Veterans Memorial Committee.

Eventually the committee came together to iron out the details of a bigger project. A granite memorial was built at the base of the flag pole, which is the centerpiece of the design. The names of the known 35 Goodhue County POW/MIAs are engraved in the granite, and on the sidewalk surrounding it are pavers that display the names of veterans or active service members, which can be purchased for $300. (The granite, flagpole and landscaping cost roughly $60,000, and the pavers have helped cover some of that expense.) There’s room for 288 pavers, and about 115 can still be purchased.

The ceremony was well attended and lasted about 80 minutes, and the weather was ideal, making the shiny granite stone sparkle perfectly in the sun.

“This was a go event rain or shine,” said Gary Bakko, one of the board members. “We were in denial that we were going to have anything but nice weather.”

The Zumbrota Area Community Band played for 30 minutes prior to the start of the ceremony, which also included the introduction of living World War II Ex-POWs, the posting of the colors, in invocation from Pastor Chris Culuris and remarks from VFW State Commander Frank Presfield.

Near the end of the program the names of the 35 POW/MIAs were announced, and as each name was read a family member placed a single red rose on the granite base.

Kory Wiech was the Master of Ceremonies, and he also made the closing statement, which followed a prayer by Pastor Pat McBride.

“I have one last thing to leave you with today,” Wiech said. “Let us never forget.”

After Saturday, they won’t.

Reach Sports Editor Josh Berhow at 333-3119, or follow him on @FDNjoshberhow

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