Boy Scout Ethan Burgoon holds a white, wooden cross steady as he fastens it to a small metal post.
The cross stands in memory of Marine Lance Corporal Christopher B. Wasser, a 21-year-old Ottawa resident who died in April 2004 after being wounded in an attack in Husaybah, Al-Anbar Province, Iraq.
It’s a reminder of Wasser’s sacrifice, and the first of 197 crosses he installed in City Park on Saturday afternoon.
As Burgoon puts the cross in place, his leader, Scout Master Chuck Stevens, can’t help but pause.
Wasser was a member of Stevens’ Boy Scout troop, Troop 77, and knew the Marine from the time he was just a Cub Scout. So, this cross has a special meaning.
“This one hits a little close to home,” he said.
Burgoon, 14 and a freshman at Ottawa High School, installed the crosses as part of his requirements for his Eagle Scout service project. A moving reminder of the number of Franklin County lives lost to war.
The idea for the war memorial actually started with Ray Shumate, who’s helped organize the community Veterans Day celebration for several years. Shumate wanted to do something new which would only add to the hundreds of flags displayed throughout City Park and along Main Street. That’s when he decided to have a display honoring those Franklin County residents who were killed in action.
“I wanted the crosses, but I knew there was no way I could get it done,” he said.
That’s when Shumate talked to Stevens, and Ethan’s grandfather, Richard Burgoon, about the idea. Soon, they proposed it to Ethan.
“It didn’t seem like it would be a difficult project,” he said. “And my grandpa’s a vet, so it was close to home for me.”
Once he received approval, Ethan got started with project planning and asking for donations to cover expenses. A few weeks ago, Ethan, his grandfather and other scouts assembled the crosses, which took nearly five hours to put together and paint.
On Saturday, Shumate watched as Ethan began putting the crosses in place amid the hundreds of American flags whipping in a cool November breeze. Those flags were installed earlier that morning by Boy Scout Troop 74 and Cub Scout Pack 3079.
“You see all of this,” he said. “It’s all done for the love of it.”
“And you know, we’ve had more compliments on these flags.”
Earlier that morning, Shumate added to the display in City Park, recreating a smaller version of the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. His version features several servicemen escorting a Jeep as they make their way through the countryside. Most of what he used to create the display was donated. Other parts he made himself. Next year, he plans on adding more soldiers, and hopes to even bring in a memorial wall.
“Right now, we have the best Veterans Day display west of the Delaware River,” he said. “And the sad thing is there’s huge towns with huge budgets, and they can’t do anything but have a parade.”
On Saturday afternoon, Stevens and Ethan carefully measured out the rows before staking each spot where a cross would be located. The crosses are grouped by war: World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Iraqi war. A pathway has also been developed, allowing onlookers to read the individual names displayed on each cross.
Ethan never really understood the cost of war until he began working on the project.
“You don’t really think about how big a toll a war is even on Franklin County as small as it is,” he said. “I didn’t think much about it, but once you see it, it’s a big thing.”
“I really didn’t know that because they really don’t teach us that anymore.”
Ethan’s grandfather, Richard, a Vietnam vet and lifelong Ottawa resident, still feels the pain, but works with Iraqi vets to help them as they transition into post-war, civilian life.
“When you’re 17 or 18, and they put a gun in your hand,” he said. “Some of those boys just didn’t come back the same.”
“The public respects (Iraqi veterans) more, and that’s a good thing. Back then, you had to fly home in your dress uniform. You stuck out like a sore thumb. You had people spitting at you, and throwing trash on you.”
Not only did Ethan’s troop install crosses, but also helped assemble the war re-enactment sites at Forest Park earlier Saturday morning.
As Richard watched the scouts at work, he couldn’t help but be proud of them.
“It’s a good thing what these scouts are doing,” he said. “I don’t think people understand just how much work goes into this. And, people need to learn more about what these people sacrificed so they can be free.”
“I just think it would be nice if people would go down to the park, and come down and see what these men went through. It’s sad, but when you sign an oath to protect your country, you do it for life. Hopefully, after watching this, people will have more respect for these people than they did before.”
With his project completed, Ethan will now wait before receiving approval for his project, and eventually earning the rank of Eagle Scout.
The Veterans Day display in City Park is expected to remain for two weeks before it is disassembled and put away for the year, Shumate said.