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A vision to honor veterans that has been over a decade in the making is finally coming to fruition.
Former Cambridge American Legion Post Commander Clark Swanson came back from serving in Vietnam and was shocked at how the soldiers returning home were treated. So he set out to provide a place to honor all veterans.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held for Veterans Memorial Park on Friday, June 12, at 207 Birch St. S., Cambridge, organized by the Veterans Memorial Park Committee. Committee members include Clark Swanson, his wife Annette Swanson and their daughter Kim Swanson; Jim Rostberg and his wife Kathy Rostberg; Susan Morris; Gail Genin; and Kelly Lillemoen.
“When I came home from Vietnam, I was shocked how we were treated. I, along with many others, were bitter about it for a long time. We could not understand why we were being blamed for the war we were put into,” Clark Swanson said. “As time went on, I started to think about a place where we could sit quietly and remember. I wanted a place where we could honor all veterans, because every veteran gave a piece of his or herself serving our country.”
Veterans Memorial Park, located just west of the former Isanti County Courthouse building, will consist of eight granite walls with blocks containing the names of veterans and military members, along with 20 foot flag poles flying the U.S. flag and flags of each military branch. The walls will pay respect to veterans from any generation and locale. Living veterans will also be honored with their names being placed on the wall. The park will be a tranquil place for all to go to reflect and remember the sacrifices so many have made for our freedom. Veterans will be able to add their own stories through a partnered website.
Jim Rostberg, chair of Isanti County Beyond the Yellow Ribbon and retired director of the Isanti County Veterans Service Office, emceed the groundbreaking ceremony.
“This is very exciting, very, very exciting. It’s been a long time coming,” Jim Rostberg said. “The city (of Cambridge) has been very involved with this to help us make sure we do everything correctly; they have been a great partner.”
The mission statement of Veterans Memorial Park Inc. is as follows: “In recognition of their commitment to the citizens of the United States, the Veterans Memorial Park Inc. is dedicated to preserving the names of their veterans with a block that contains their name and military information for posterity.”
The park has been an evolving idea, according to Clark Swanson. He and his wife, Annette, have had the opportunity to visit many memorial parks across the state, taking note of ideas on design and location.
“I’m so happy to see everybody here, I can’t tell you what a great day this is,” Clark Swanson said. “Been going forward with this for several years. It started out as kind of a dream I had quite a few years ago. And I thought about it for a long time and I didn’t know how to go about it and I went to talk with Mr. Rostberg, our veterans service officer, and he said, ‘Clark, I think it’s time we get into this. You’ve been thinking about it a long time and let’s get started.’ So I took it from there. It all came to me from years ago. When I came home from Vietnam it was kind of a turmoil time and not too many people understood us or realized what we’d done. The more I thought about it, I wanted to make a place where we could get together and talk with grandpa, grandma, whoever, and just be a quiet place. No guns, no weapons, no nothing. Just a quiet place where we can return to and enjoy this whole time.”
Clark Swanson thanked his wife, daughter, and all of the committee members for their efforts.
“It’s a great committee and they’ve put in a lot of time, a lot of work and we’ve just come together and it’s been such an exciting time to think about this. And today we are putting this all together and once again, I can’t thank enough people for being here. Please enjoy it and wait and see,” Clark Swanson said. “This is going to be something that this city can be extremely proud of, the county will, everybody will be. It will be something of focus that people can come to Cambridge and say look at this veterans park. It’s something for now, for the past and forever.”
Cambridge Mayor Jim Godfrey thanked all the veterans for their service.
“Thanks to the committee for this inceptious idea and making it come to fruition. If you know Jim (Rostberg) and all of the members of the committee, they’re a little humble and they’re not going to ask for thanks out loud, so I want to say thank you for your volunteering and stepping forward and making this come true,” Godfrey said. “We would also like to thank our veterans and their families for everything they’re doing and being here today; some sacrificed all but all sacrificed some. And so I thank you for your service. This place will be some small way the city can thank all of you for the sacrifices that you’ve done but I hope this will also be a place of remembrance and hope. My father came home from Korea and struggled for years with the aftermath. Trying to live a normal life in an area that had no concept of what went on overseas. I’m hoping this will help all heal and remember and live our best lives possible, thanking you all for our freedom every time we go by this.”
Morris, who is also an Isanti County commissioner and a founding member of Isanti County Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, said all of the contractors involved with Veterans Memorial Park are donating their time to the project. The project manager for Veterans Memorial Park is Brian Baas, from BJ Baas Builders of Cambridge.
“It’s a great day for the community, a great day for our veterans and service members and I’m proud to be a part of this as helping to coordinate the project,” Baas said. “I started my involvement a couple years back when I was asked if I was interested in purchasing some names on the monument, and I did that and I never knew a couple years later I would be trying to help to coordinate the project. I’m excited to do so. The more I get involved the more exciting it is for me. We’ve got a great group of champions for our service members in this community. I hope just to come alongside their effort and support that effort and bring their dream and efforts to fruition here in the next couple months.”
Anyone wishing to help bring this project to completion can support by any of the following ways: purchase a place on the wall on behalf of a veteran, purchase a planter, bench or tree. Of course general donations are always appreciated. Donations can be sent to Veterans Memorial Park, P.O. Box 254, Cambridge, MN 55008. For further information call 763-670-9045 or search Veterans Memorial Park, INC on Facebook.