Council approves concept for veterans’ memorial

Apr. 22, 2013 @ 11:23 PM

The Town Council on Monday unanimously approved a concept plan for a veterans memorial that would honor the men and women of Orange County who have served in the nation’s Armed Forces.

If approved the “garden memorial” featuring granite pillars and a grove of trees, would be located at Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery on Legion Road.

The memorial is the brainchild of former town councilman Jim Merritt, a Vietnam veteran who announced upon his departure from council in 2009 that he would work to create a monument to honor veterans of Orange County.

In an interview following the council’s decision, Merritt, who chaired the Chapel Hill Veterans Memorial Design Committee, said he was pleased to be moving on to the next phase, which is fundraising.

Merritt will lead the effort to raise a minimum of $300,000 along with Bruce Runberg, UNC’s associate vice chancellor for facilities planning.

“I’m hoping within the next 18 to 24 months,” Merritt said, when asked how long he thought it would take to bring the project on line. “I’d like to get going.”

While the council’s vote for the “memorial garden” was unanimous, the same cannot be said for one of the veterans committees working on the memorial proposal.

Martin Rody, a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and is a member of the memorial design committee, opposed the concept of a memorial garden, citing the expense of maintaining such a memorial.

“It’s going to be very costly to maintain,” Rody said.

He said a memorial garden would not last forever because trees, shrubs and plants die.

 “In 50 years, the memorial garden becomes unsightly and in 100 years you probably wouldn’t even know it’s there,” Rody said. “Stone and metal will last forever.”

But Rusty Edmister, a Vietnam veteran, said the proposed memorial is a great way to thank veterans for their time and service.

 “It’s one thing to have people stand at a game and applaud you,” Edmister said. “It’s another thing, as the Christmas parade goes through town to applaud you, but those are moments in time. I urge, you ladies and gentlemen to approve this memorial because it’s a permanent way for the Town of Chapel Hill to say thank you for the time that veterans and their families sacrificed, not only for this community, but for the United States.” 

Council members seemed generally please with the concept.

“I think this concept suits the place and suits my understanding of how memorials work in our time,” said Councilwoman Sally Greene. “They are places for reflection and for all kinds of people to come with all kinds of thoughts, particularly about the thoughts of our veterans,” Greene said.

Lee Storrow also thinks the concept is a good one.

“I think ya’ll have put together a really well done design,” Storrow said. “The phrase quiet dignity that is in one of the four themes is really reflective of the work you all as a committee and some of the folks that have been involved in the work have put together.”

Butch Kisiah, director of the town’s Parks and Recreation Department, noted that the concept for the memorial was developed with input from a diverse group of residents, including representatives from the town’s veterans groups, Public Art Committee, and the Cemetery Advisory Committee and Design Committee.

“And it took a lot of meetings and a lot of time to get to the point where we had something that most everybody agreed with to come forward to you and to say ‘We would like to do this, is this OK with you and is it OK to use the cemetery property to do it?’” Kisiah said.

He said the department and the veterans committee will return with final plans, including a maintenance plan, for council approval.

Councilman Matt Czajkowski said it is tough to believe the town can’t pitch in to help maintain the memorial.

“If the Town of Chapel Hill can’t at least contribute to maintenance of this beautiful memorial, then I think that’s shameful,” said Czajkowski, a Navy veteran. “Surely we can find a little bit of money, at least, to participate in contributing to the maintenance of this.”