The clouds hung ominously and the streets were marked with puddles from fresh rain, but that didn't stop downtown Morristown from getting into the Memorial Day spirit.
A crowd of about 400 turned out for the dedication of the town's freshly completed Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday.
Those in attendance were treated to a military-style ceremony complete with color guard, rifle squad and a keynote speech from Rev. Dr. Eugene Chase, himself a naval veteran of the Vietnam War. Adding to the military setting were tanks and other armed service vehicles parked in the streets surrounding the ceremony.
After thanking the many donors who helped make the park a reality, Chase stressed the importance of acknowledging the men and women serving in the military and honoring those who died as a result of that service.
"There are two days out of the year where we recognize veterans: Memorial Day and Veterans Day. The other 363 days, we might not think about them at all," Chase said to the crowd. "They give their lives to keep this country safe and memorials like this are a reminder of that dedication."
Following Chase's speech, the crowd sang along to a heartfelt rendition of "God Bless America" and began checking out the new memorial immediately after the ceremony ended.
Located across the street from the American Legion, the memorial features a statue with a bald eagle at the top of it and the slogan "All Gave Some, Some Gave All" inscribed at the base of it. Leading out of the memorial is a walkway lined with stones commemorating local veterans dating back to the Civil War. The park's design was a combination of several other memorials the builders were looking at throughout the construction process.
According to Memorial Park committee members, the park was funded almost entirely by community donations and other fundraising efforts. Despite the committee being formed only two years ago, they were able to raise more than $140,000 to help bring the project to fruition.
Committee member George Fritz, a local American Legion member and naval veteran of the Vietnam War, said the community support for the park was tremendous from the beginning. On more than one occasion, he said, community members would stop by the legion to ask about the park's progress and drop off contribution money without being asked.
"When you get an outpouring like that from the community, it makes us that much more motivated to get it done," Fritz said.
Thanks largely to that community support, the park was constructed in expedient fashion, with Saturday's ceremony taking place one day shy of a year after the project's initial groundbreaking.
"Enthusiasm was high," Chase said. "Everyone was eager to help and that help was welcome."
That enthusiasm was also evident with the sizable crowd present at the ceremony, a turnout that surprised just about everyone involved with the project.
"This was just unbelievable," committee member Keith Remund, a veteran of the Korean War, said, "We were expecting some people to show up, but we didn't think it'd be anything like this."