Oscar E. Benson is a World War I (WWI) service member who is buried at the Gethsemane Lutheran Church Cemetery in Upsala.
Who was he? What was his story? Does he have any descendants who are still alive today?
“We don’t know anything about him,” said Don Marty, memorial co-chair.
Marty said since Benson was 26 when he died in 1918 and WWI raged from 1914-1918, it is possible he died in battle.
Benson became an inspiration for the American Legion Post 350 members in Upsala to emphasize the project on WWI service members.
“The reason why we emphasized on World War I was because they are nearly forgotten,” Marty said.
As part of the Upsala Area Veterans Memorial a wall features a soldier and the American flag. It says, “WWI 1914 - 1918 The war to end all wars. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when the guns fell silent we will remember.”
Although there is still some work to be done around the memorial, such as installing a parking lot, a dedication of the memorial was held Saturday, Oct. 12, in Upsala.
Several people spoke about the memorial, their role in the project and what it means to the community, veterans and the families of the servicemen who sacrificed their lives.
“Why do we do memorials? Some in society will say it’s glorifying war. We don’t. We do it to commemorate and honor those who served and gave their all,” said American Legion 6th District Commander Paul Edwards.
At the dedication, Upsala Mayor Rollie Johnson thanked the American Legion Post 350 members for their hard work and commitment to the project.
“You have truly added tremendous beauty to the city of Upsala and to the surrounding communities,” he said.
The memorial is located on the corner of Main Street and Oak Avenue in Upsala and commemorates those who served during various war eras, such as WWI, WWII (1939-1945), Korean War (1950-1955), Vietnam War (1961-1975) and the Gulf Wars.
Those who served in between wars were placed in the war era before.
Memorial co-chair Dave Brezinka said it isn’t unusual for them to receive a note from the family about the deceased.
One note said that her dad was a captain in the Air Force during WWII and flew C47 transport aircrafts to drop troops behind enemy lines during the Normandy invasion.
While the walls are dedicated to the fallen who were from the Upsala area, the granite pavers on the ground commemorate both deceased and living veterans from any area, Brezinka said.
The pavers include the person’s name, branch of service and dates served.
Marty said although the Post 350 members had talked about erecting a memorial for years, it wasn’t until Upsala celebrated 100 years that they really started to “get the ball rolling” when they announced it on Veterans Day 2017.
More than $100,000 was raised from businesses, individuals and more for the memorial. They also received a $27,000 grant from Sourcewell. However, as the total cost of the memorial is about $187,000, the fundraising is ongoing.
One of the first steps in the process was to find a location. Both Marty and Brezinka agree that the location in the city couldn’t have been any better and they are very grateful to Gethsemane Lutheran Church for selling the property to them.
The excavation started in the fall last year and concrete for the foundation was poured. The work was finished earlier this spring, Brezinka said.
Although the process has been relatively smooth, the biggest challenge was to coordinate the contractors. It was also very time consuming to gather the names of the fallen and to determine into which era they would be placed at the memorial.
“We walked cemeteries, wrote off of grave stones and went to the Morrison County Historical Society. It was a very interesting project to find all of those names,” Brezinka said.
Seeing the memorial and reading the names on the wall is very touching.
“They gave it all for the rest of us, for the freedoms we enjoy. It’s an honor to have served and to be a part of that,” said Marty, who served in the United States Army from 1968 to 1970.
Both Marty and Brezinka were very pleased with the turnout at the dedication as about 200 people came to show their support.
Those who want to donate to the project may make a check payable to Post 350 Veterans Memorial and mail it to American Legion Post 350, Attn: Veteran Memorial, P.O. Box 272, Upsala, MN 56384.
For more information, contact Brezinka at (320) 630-4115 or Marty at (218) 841-5242.