Under a clear blue sky, the American flag was lowered Friday as veterans from the Public Works department placed the cremains of nine veterans inside the Columbus Veterans’ Memorial Columbarium at Riverdale Cemetery.
It was a final place of dignity for forgotten veterans whose remains are normally placed in a cardboard box during a city service. More than 110 people gathered at the 1000 Victory Drive cemetery on Friday to see what started as an idea from Pat Biegler, the Public Works director, two years ago and came to life after three months of construction.
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said the project is an opportunity to provide dignity to those who put the lives of Americans first in their lives and served in the military.
“When they are laid to rest, they didn‘t have the dignity they were due,” the mayor said. “We are reminded of scripture in the Bible. They served us with all their heart and soul. Now, it is time we serve them with all our heart and soul. This is precisely what this day is all about.”
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Biegler, the daughter of a World War II gunner who served in a B-17, recalled how she was Berlin as a student in the 1970s when she decided to cross into East Berlin and visit the museum. While checking in , she said a soldier thought she was cute and should spend the whole day.
“I was held at gunpoint,” she said. “ I talked my way out of that. At that instance, I learned and realized in a gut level just how very precious our freedom is and what it means not to have it.”
Americans don’t have to face the point of a gun from soldiers on a daily basis because there are people who are willing to fight for freedom. “When I realized veterans are not being properly honored, I decided that at least I have the germ of an idea and was going to do something with it,” she said.
She recognized James Mang and Nick Kelley, both veterans, for spearheading the building project. “They took my idea and turned it into a dream and vision,” she said.
Mang, an Army veteran from who served as a specialist in Desert Storm, said the skills of the Street Department came together for the building. The first date of completion was next Memorial Day but it was changed to Veterans Day.
“I had doubts but the more everybody came together, things just started appearing,” Mang said. “The work was just being done tremendously. I started to have faith it was going to come true.”
Along the way, city employees had help from the Mission Continues, a nonprofit organization what empowers veterans, with the bricks on the building .
Retired Army Col. George Steuber, guest speaker for the event and deputy garrison commander at Fort Benning, said the columbarium is a symbol of what veterans mean to this country. He noted that less than half of 1 percent of the population served in the military.
“Veterans are what is keeping this country free today,” he said. “I’m not so sure people understand what that means. This is a monument to veterans, a monument to their service.”
It is also a monument to the spirit of Mission Continues and the Public Works department coming together and showing that veterans and soldiers take care of one another. “They will never be forgotten,” he said.
Biegler read the names of all nine veterans with urns placed inside the structure. They are Charlie Caldwell, Patrick Loftus, Christopher Kreiz, Franklin Allen, Ralph Wood, Gregory Spivey, Steve Willis, Frank Gunnels and George Serbedzija.
Here is a list of events scheduled at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center and other locations on Nov. 11., Veterans Day: