A war memorial that the experts said would never get built has propelled Greg Schlieve of Sunnyside to the top of the VFW heap.
This past weekend Schlieve was named the Veteran of the Year by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of Washington. The honor was bestowed on him at the state conference in Yakima.
"I believe it was the work I did on the monument that led to the award," Schlieve said.
It isn't the first time the extravagant memorial located in Lower Valley Memorial Gardens cemetery north of Sunnyside has brought awards to town.
"The Sunnyside VFW post got a national award in April 2005 for the best memorial built in the United States by any VFW post," said Schlieve. "And last year it received the state Commander's Award."
Schlieve's idea for a memorial that would be a tribute to the 25 Sunnyside men who died in World War II took shape gradually and, he said, designed itself because of the shape of the ground on which it was to be built.
Schlieve said that one of the largest granite companies in the state took just five minutes to look at his conceptual design of the memorial in 1997 before telling him, "We don't even want to bid on it because you'll never build it."
"He told me my design was so complex he'd have to have a guy feed information into a computer for three days just to give us a bid," said Schlieve.
"He told me it was bigger than the World War II memorial on the state capitol grounds, and he told me to go look at the World War II memorial in a cemetery in Seattle that took five VFW posts five years to get money for it.
"Well, I took a look at it and thought 'gee, this is pitiful', and I went back and told the granite guy we were still going to try to do it and he said he still didn't want to bid on it."
But, when Sunnyside's VFW Post #3482 had three quarters of the money in the bag, "the granite company guy" was singing a different tune.
"He said he'd undercut by $10,000 any bid we got," said Schlieve, who thought it sounded too good to be true.
The bottom line was, the company rep said, they knew the project, made up of two rows of polished, engraved granite and benches and stands for flags, would be a showcase for them that would make the cover of trade magazines and bring them business.
With the extensive help of volunteer labor in the Sunnyside area and from Sunnyside companies, like O. L.. Luther Asphalt, which provided 85 tons of asphalt free, the project got underway.
The granite company selected black granite from India and gray granite from Georgia...and today they stand as a tribute to veterans not only of World War II, but of Vietnam and Korea, who gave their lives for their country.
In addition, two other panels bear bronze plaques with the names of men and women who served in some capacity in the military.
"A third of the money we raised came from the sale of those plaques," said Schlieve, who purchased one for himself as a Vietnam veteran.
Schlieve landed in Vietnam in 1969 on his 20th birthday. He served with the 5th Battalion, 7th Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division.
For those who don't realize the significance of that unit, suffice it to say that 5th Battalion, known as E Troop, was the troop General Custer led when he made his last stand.
E Troop was disbanded after Custer's defeat and remained inactive for 90 years until it was reactivated for the Vietnam War as the 5th Battalion (so named since the letter E is the fifth letter in the alphabet). After Vietnam, it was again disbanded.
"I attended the 10-year anniversary of the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. in 1992," said Schlieve. "A wreath was laid for every unit that served in Vietnam. A final wreath was laid for the most decorated battalion of the war, and that was the 5th, my battalion."
With that history behind him, it may be no wonder that Schlieve wanted to build a memorial to fallen soldiers.
"I'm not too impressed with going to war, but I'm sure impressed with the people who do it," said Schlieve.
Now that memorial stands in in the cemetery north of Sunnyside, where the 25 who died in World War II are joined by other names from Korea and Vietnam.
Plus the bronze plaques with the names of men and women who served their country during conflict. There is even the name of a Civil War veteran.
Plus two flag poles and numerous black granite benches.
But Schlieve said the memorial, which cost $150,000 plus lots of volunteer labor and donated material, isn't quite finished.
"We have two more granite benches to be installed next to the flag poles," said Schlieve, who added that they are on hold until the black granite from India arrives at the Seattle company that initially thought the Sunnyside VFW would never get the job done.