AMSTERDAM - Mayor Gary Pepperling agrees that Memorial Day is always a special day in Amsterdam.
But this Memorial Day will be extra special.
That's because on May 28, dedication ceremonies for a veterans memorial project launched three years ago will be held - a project that honors both peacetime and wartime service men and women.
Gary Pepperling, left, and Tom Stone in front of the Great Wall of Honor in Amsterdam
-- Janice R. Kiaski
Their names - all 1,160 of them on a "Great Wall of Honor" in the village's gazebo park area - reflect honorably discharged men and women members of the Armed Services who hail not only from Amsterdam, but also Bergholz, East Springfield and Wolf Run, a liberal area encompassing a 5-mile radius.
The park also is home now to a separate monument honoring World War I and World War II Amsterdam veterans, newly reconfigured and moved from its original location near what was the Amsterdam State Bank property.
Pepperling and Tom Stone are co-chairs of the committee that launched the project in 2009 along with Pat Wilkin, Bill Whitmore, Damon "Bud" Johnson, Paul Bright, Mike Stone, Norma Smith, John Warbel, Don Drake, Bradley Gregor and Ron Stone.
"I'm kind of proud of what we've done," said Pepperling of the overall effort that combined not only a call for names to be included but fundraisers to generate roughly $35,000 from businesses, individuals and organizations and volunteer work to bring it all to fruition.
In light of that, the "Amsterdam, Bergholz, East Springfield and Wolf Run Memorial Weekend Schedule" will be a three-day holiday celebration beginning May 26 with a dance at the Amsterdam VFW Hall from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. featuring music by DJ Rockin' Rodney; an ecumenical worship service at 4 p.m. May 27 at the gazebo; and the Memorial Day service itself.
May 28 festivities get under way at 9 a.m. with the Memorial Day parade followed by the dedication ceremony that will so far involve VFW Commander John Gallagher; committee members Pepperling, Tom Stone and Johnson; Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla; Jefferson County Commissioner Thomas Graham; Amsterdam native and "highly decorated veteran" Herman Groman, a retired FBI agent, director of security at a Las Vegas resort and author of "Pigeon Spring;" Herb Christian III, grandson of WWII Medal of Honor winner Herbert F. Christian; state Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville; patriotic songs by Mary Kay Webb and Saundra Willison; VFW auxiliary representatives; the Rev. Paul W. George; and the Rev. David Miller.
There are five granite plaques, each weighing 440 pounds and measuring approximately 4-by-4 feet, on the new memorial wall. It goes back as far as the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War and Spanish American War.
"The first meeting with all the members present of our committee we all decided the ultimate goal was to honor all men and women who have served their country from the surrounding area, including East Springfield, Wolf Run, Amsterdam and Bergholz and liberal rules will apply to the area. It will include anyone who wishes to be placed on the memorial so we encompassed the whole area," Stone explained of the committee's effort to collect names of members of the Armed Services honorably discharged from Dec. 31, 1946, to the present.
That meeting was held March 1, 2009.
"We thought we might get around 2,000, but I think after once this is up, we are going to have people come afterwards and say 'You forgot me,' and if that happens, we'll buy another plaque after we get enough names," Pepperling said, noting the wall can accommodate another panel listing as many as 300 names.
"Wartime service wasn't the criteria for this," Pepperling said of the name collection process. "All we asked is that you served honorably and that you served your country, whether you served wartime or peacetime, you were one phone call away from being in the war," he said.
"Whether you were in a radio station in Greenland or in southern Florida maintaining aircraft you can be sent to war any time. That's why we encompass everybody, not just war veterans," Pepperling said.
While the project represents the assistance of many volunteers through contributions and physical help, the committee co-chairs expressed gratitude to village native John Russell of John Russell Construction for its design work and labor related to the memorial.
"If we didn't have their expertise down here, we wouldn't have known what to do," Stone said.
While the bulk of the work is done, one remaining facet to be handled is generating about $8,900 to purchase two "Fallen Soldier" memorial statues, one to be placed at each end of the wall.
Stone explained that when servicemen or women are lost in the battlefield, it is customary to arrange their boots, helmet and rifle with the surviving squad members to memorialize their fallen comrades. The arrangement also is known as a "Battlefield Cross" or a "Battle Cross."
Stone said one end would be World War II, the other Desert Storm.
"This is an extra project," Stone said of the final phase hoped to be completed by Memorial Day 2013 if not much sooner.
Anyone wanting to donate toward that can make a check payable to the Veterans Memorial Fund and send it to Stone's attention at 8300 Bear Road, Amsterdam OH 43903.
The other part of the veterans memorial project involved relocating the "old memorial" dedicated exclusively to Amsterdam veterans of World War I and World War II. It had been a fixture in town located near what used to be the Amsterdam State Bank. The two plaques of names were taken from it and erected on a new base placed to the right of new memorial.
Near it is an explanation of its significance related to its Sept. 2, 1929, dedication. It reads:
"The original monument was erected to honor the men of Amsterdam for their heroic sacrifices during World War I. Flanked by two machine guns, the single plaque contained the names of 128 local servicemen, three of our 'doughboys' giving their full final measure: Vernon Lee Teeman, James James and Konstanty Joseph Bojarski.
"Due to limited space, the monument was built on donated land by the former Amsterdam State Bank next to its building. In 1946, two more plaques were added to honor and enshrine 343 of our men and women who served during World War II. Twelve gave all - Wendell Brown, Byron Crumbly, Harvey Dillon, Clifford Edwards, Chester Budinski, J. Raymond Jurkiewicz, William Holligan, Robert Ritchie, Metro Repella, Edward Shanley, Jack Worthing and Jay Wrikeman."
"We wanted to move it down here from the bank since it had changed hands and now it's nothing, and the property was deteriorating, and the owner of the bank property really wanted that property freed up," Pepperling said, noting the village council's action to make the park area a memorial park means it falls under the protection of the village.
As for the new memorial, the collection of names meant connecting with many callers, according to Pepperling and Stone.
"I took a lot of these names, and people would call with these names, but the stories, the remarkable stories of what these men and women did, sometimes it makes me want to cry," Pepperling said.
"Everybody on that plaque right there has a story," Stone said.
Stone's son Mike, a local history enthusiast, compiled a lengthy human interest story on what the battle of Stoney Point, N.Y., in 1779, a French immigrant and Amsterdam have as a common denominator - John Andrew. He has made copies of the Revolutionary War veteran's story that he plans to distribute to dedication service attendees.
The memorial park is generating interest - positive feedback as well as tears, according to the committee co-chairs.
"I just think it's wonderful how all the communities banded together in the surrounding area. We had tremendous donations big and small, and they all counted. The people really made the difference in making this happen," Pepperling said of what has nurtured "wonderful" work-together spirit.
Pepperling said Memorial Day is extra special this year "because we've attempted to do something even if we've made a mistake (leaving a name out) we apologize, but the big picture is what counts, and I think we've made a difference, and the communities working together to do this is such a great thing."
"It's amazing when you get somebody to take the time and make the push what small communities can really do when they stick together and go about doing it," Tom Stone added.
(Kiaski can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)