“It was meant to be,” said Veterans Memorial Committee member Larry VanDeWalker of the statue’s installation in Wanamingo’s Veterans Memorial Park on Wednesday, June 24.

Initially, the rainy weather posed a threat on the planned installation of phase 2 of the “Freedom Is Not Free” monument. As the morning went on, sunny skies paved the way to a successful installation. VanDeWalker correlates the weather’s uncertainty that morning to the unplanned cancellation of many of the monument’s fundraising events over the last several months due to the pandemic. Although there was uncertainty at times, everything worked out well in the end as if it was “meant to be.”

Committee member Michael Boulton says they were lucky they started off fundraising last summer as quickly as they did, otherwise they may not have met their goal when they did.

Through various meat and rifle raffles, a pancake breakfast, and generous donations from local and surrounding businesses, organizations and community members, the committee achieved its goal of raising just over $40,000 for the creation and installation of the unique sculpture after just 11 months. The Wanamingo Honor Guard led dedicated members of the Wanamingo VFW and the Committee to raise the needed funds to honor all those who have served. Boulton said additional funds will need to be raised for general upkeep of both the statue and the memorial. The cost of the pavers that surround the memorial’s walkway and flagpole also help contribute to the upkeep of the site.

Larry Pederson, Committee member, found it unbelievable, that even these tough times, supporters still stepped up and backed them up.

“It goes to show that people believe what we’re doing here,” said Pederson of the outstanding support from the community and surrounding areas. “They still believe in America.”

The “Freedom is Not Free” statue, recognizes all military members on land, air and sea who have served from the Revolutionary War to present day. It joins the POW/MIA memorial placed at the Veterans Memorial several years ago. The 6-foot cast bronze sculpture, created by Marianne Caroselli of Texas, is not only unique to the local area, but to the state of Minnesota. Caroselli only allows one of this particular monument per state. Wanamingo’s monument joins just five others in the United States with Clinton, Illinois being the closest. Other locations are in Wyoming, Texas and Arizona.

That unique quality is one of several things that stands out to members of the community, including Wanamingo VFW Commander Gary Floan.

“It’s a nice addition, that’s for sure,” said Floan of the new statue. “It’s the only one in the whole state, That’s what I like about it, I thought it was pretty neat.”

Eric Dierks, veterans memorial committee member and Wanamingo Honor Guard commander, said the addition of their new statue is a sign of recognition and commitment to the “top priority” of the Wanamingo Veterans Honor Guard — honoring the fallen.

“It was through persistence and planning that we as a team, got the wheels turning on this venture,” said Dierks. “Because of its uniqueness, I believe this statue will make the veterans memorial a destination for many people and I look forward to seeing people out and about in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Reach reporter Michelle Vlasak at 507-333-3128 or follow her on Twitter @apgmichelle. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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