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American Legion plans major facelift of downtown memorial for veterans

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Two gray-colored wooden markers show where memorials to Sept. 11 and to Pearl Harbor would stand as part of a proposal submitted by the American Legion to the city of Sunnyside.

Noting the veteran's memorial at the cemetery lacks space for additional names, American Legion Post #73 in Sunnyside is proposing an expanded memorial at the intersection of Ninth Street and Edison Avenue.

In a Jan. 30 letter to the Sunnyside City Council, mayor and city manager, the post's Memorial Chairman, Gregory Schlieve, outlined the proposal in detail.

The current memorial plaza at Ninth and Edison is named for veteran Jerry Taylor and was dedicated in the fall of 1977.

The pyramid-shaped marker, situated at the north end of a long, rose bush-lined walkway, will remain in place.

"One of the first things we'll do is give the pyramid a renewed look," Schlieve said. "We've talked with several different contractors, asking them to look at it.

"We've decided that the pyramid is so important that we'll probably spend more money on that than anything else," noted Schlieve. "We're looking at every conceivable idea of what we can do for a facelift."

Ideas discussed to date range from tiling the marker to applying a granite veneer.

Not only will the pyramid and Taylor's plaque remain, so too will the plaza's name under the proposal.

Referring to it as the Jerry Taylor Veteran's Plaza, Schlieve said the proposed changes will accentuate the memorial.

"You never see an event at the memorial, but if we get this redone that will be the focal point, there could be announcements of this or that event at the Jerry Taylor Veteran's Plaza."

Schlieve said Taylor was a good friend of his.

"He used to put out all the flags at the cemetery for years," Schlieve recalled. "When he passed all those flags were given to me so I've carried on some of those traditions. Jerry taught me a lot."

Proposed changes would call for transplanting the rose bushes to elsewhere in the city. In addition, all lawn and trees would be removed to make way for cement walkways and paving bricks to line the grounds.

Six large granite walls, similar to those at the War Veteran's Memorial at Lower Valley Memorial Gardens, would be erected at the memorial plaza, with room planned for additional walls in the future.

Schlieve said keeping the proposed plan free of vegetation would also mean that underground water lines would not have to be placed, thereby removing the risk of freezing pipes or water damage to the granite.

Noting that the memorial at the cemetery covers "the past 100 years of Sunnyside," Schlieve wrote to council, mayor and city manager that the new proposal would not only recognize the past, but plan for the next 100 years.

"Our nation is presently at war," he noted in the letter. "As of today no members of our community have died in either Afghanistan or Iraq. But are we prepared if they do?"

Like the memorial at the cemetery, costs of the American Legion's expansion proposal would not be passed on to the city.

The plan would be paid for through selling up to 800 bronze memorial plaques at $300 each to be placed on the granite walls.

The plaques will be available to all veterans, with the granite markers placed according to conflicts such as the Cold War and the War on Terrorism.

The names of those killed in action or missing in action will be inscribed on a special black granite marker at no charge to the respective families. The same is true for local soldiers who were prisoners of war.

The expanded memorial is intended for Sunnyside, though Schlieve said the proposal would sell plaques to those who have served outside the area.

"If someone wanted to buy a plaque to honor their father from Missouri who was a veteran we would sell them one," he noted as an example.

Calling it a potential "Crown Jewel" for the city of Sunnyside, Schlieve said the site would be lit up at night with 18 high quality flood lights.

Other details of the proposal, which offered three designs for the city to consider, include a 14-foot high granite marker featuring the silhouette of a U.S. soldier at the south end of the plaza.

Flanking the pyramid at the north end would be a remembrance wall dedicated to the Sept. 11, 2001 twin towers terrorist attack and another wall dedicated to the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

Preserved in the plan is the narrow walkway between the south and north ends of the memorial plaza.

"It is our intention to build a memorial that moves one's soul," Schlieve noted in the letter, co-signed by American Legion Commander Walter George. "We don't want an average memorial, where people go once and never return. We want one where people go back and back to re-visit...to rub their fingers over the bronze plaques that hold the names of their loved ones."

Whatever the city council decides, Schlieve said the American Legion will proceed with an expanded memorial to local war veterans.

"We've already ordered the granite," he said. "We received a super deal with one-third of the price knocked off. If we don't put it there (at Ninth and Edison), we'll still put it some place else."

In addition to work in refurbishing the pyramid marker, Schlieve said the first order of business-if the city approves the plan-would be to have the Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11 memorials engraved and put on display by this summer.

"As soon as the city gives us permission we'll start selling bronze plaques," Schlieve said.

Other features the American Legion would like to see at the plaza include the engraved image of the POW flag and a memorial to the tomb of the unknown soldier.

While those markers, as well as the names of past prisoners of war and those killed and missing in action, are already at the veteran's memorial at the cemetery, Schlieve said they would be duplicated at Ninth and Edison "so that there is a monument in the city."

But it's the future that was really the motivation behind the proposal, Schlieve noted.

"At an American Legion meeting we looked around and asked ourselves what we would do if it was announced that someone from Sunnyside was killed in Afghanistan or Iraq. What would we do? How would we help with the healing for the family?"

Schlieve added, "At an emotional level, that was really the driving force for getting this memorial built."

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