Westminster College students working to build veterans memorial
FULTON - Some Westminster College students and professors are raising funds to build a new Veterans Memorial.
The group, led by history Professor Mark Boulton, began the effort after a trip to Vietnam last year. Students toured battlefields and spoke with veterans, hearing their stories firsthand.
"Going over there and hearing the veterans explain their experiences themselves makes a huge difference," Boulton said.
He said the students were particularly inspired by the stories of the "Westminster 7," a name given to the seven Westminster students who died in Vietnam.
"We just wanted to find ways of honoring them," Boulton said.
Kelsie Slaughter, the Westminster senior leading the project, said, although some plaques around campus existed previously, the group felt something bigger was needed.
"When we got back, I decided that we needed something more permanent on campus to kind of commemorate Westminster’s long military history and heritage," she said.
Students also began doing more research on Westminster's military past. They learned, in addition to the seven students who died in Vietnam, more than 60 students died in World War II.
"It was that level of sacrifice that made us go 'wow we need to do something a little more permanent than just a plaque,'" said Veterans Memorial Committee member Chandler Casey.
He said he believes losing that many students during wartime would have been difficult to handle.
"That must have been pretty impactful at the time. I couldn't imagine hearing somebody you went to school with died in war," he said.
The students working on the memorial project are eager to honor the Blue Jays who have served, or even laid down their lives, in battle. Westminster alumni who have served say it means a great deal to them.
"It's actually quite humbling," said retired Army Colonel Gary Ridenhour. "It's very heart warming."
Ridenhour started his military career at Westminster as an ROTC cadet. He said he never intended to make a career out of it, but ended up serving for nearly 30 years.
He said a new memorial will help students remember the importance of our nation's history and the role the military has played in it.
"It is part of their educational experience to walk through that memorial and see what the veterans are able to do and what the military does for us," Ridenhour said.
To Vietnam veteran and Westminster alum Steve Hardin, the student interest in building a memorial is inspiring.
"It’s encouraging that the youth carry on, hopefully the right things of the past not the wrong things," he said.
The memorial and Veterans Plaza itself will consist of a bronze battle cross and an atrium with cases displaying artifacts from various wars. The memorial will cost an estimated $15,000 to construct.