Truly a Group EffortJul 01, 2021 ● By Steven Monacelli
The annual ceremony, which has been coordinated since 2004 by Frisco Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8273 and the Frisco Garden Club, drew veterans, community members, elected officials and others to the recently renovated Frisco Veterans Memorial.
The city has a history of honoring veterans for their service that dates back to the dedication of its first veterans’ memorial in 1948 by the Frisco Garden Club, which recognized those who fought in the two World Wars.
In 2004, a new memorial was dedicated at Frisco Commons Park. It featured an expanded scope while retaining the red granite urn that had been a centerpiece of the original memorial. A decade later, a Walk of Honor was added to the Frisco Veterans Memorial recognizing local veterans who had been killed in combat, along with a brick walkway where individual donors can honor veterans with engraved pavers. Earlier this year, the new Frisco Gold Star Families Memorial Monument was dedicated at Frisco Commons Park, honoring families who have lost a loved one during military service.
The latest renovations to the Frisco Veterans Memorial are significant. More than 25 specific improvements and additions are underway or have been completed, including the installation of new and updated informational plaques and signs and the addition of a POW/MIA flag, as well as stonework, concrete staining, landscaping and lighting.
The plaques, which cover wars and conflicts that have occurred since Frisco became a city, further recognize veterans who may visit the memorial as well as provide an improved understanding of history. Also, QR codes at the memorial direct visitors online to an interactive map and website where they may view videos providing additional perspective about military service, such as the increasing role of women in the armed forces.
Also installed was a new centerpiece, a sculpture of the Battlefield Cross, honoring service members killed in combat. The tradition of the Battlefield Cross originated during World War I. It takes the shape of a soldier’s rifle stuck into the ground or a service person’s boots, with a helmet resting atop the rifle butt.
Although some of the improvements to the memorial were delayed due to weeks of heavy spring rains, the majority of the work was completed in time for the Memorial Day ceremony.
A number of military veterans spoke during the event, including U.S. Congressman Van Taylor, a Marine veteran who represents Texas’ 3rd Congressional District. “As a Marine, I know the memorial helps veterans, their families, and the entire community honor and reflect on the invaluable sacrifices made by our service members and am proud to see the incredible show of support from Frisco,” he said in a written statement following the ceremony.
Planning for the renovations began in fall 2020. Retired Army Major Rob
Altman, who is also the immediate-past chair of the Frisco Veterans Advisory Committee, describes his role as “the de facto project manager,” leading design and planning sessions and weekly meetings to ensure things remained “on track and getting done.”
Frisco resident Scott Dillingham, an active supporter of the veteran community, developed a detailed list of concerns about the condition of the memorial, which he says were in need of attention. “A number of the plaques that had been installed in 2004 had been defaced, while others were lacking detail.” He wanted to ensure that the quality and relevance of the memorial was maintained, and spent many days at Frisco Commons Park observing how people interacted with the memorial. Last September, he shared his concerns and ideas with members of Frisco’s veteran community.
Around the same time, Frisco Parks and Recreation staffers noticed a typo on a plaque at the memorial as a part of their annual review process and had begun independently discussing how it could be addressed.
The collective concerns were raised at an October 2020 Frisco Veterans Advisory Committee meeting, where various stakeholders brainstormed ideas for improving the memorial.
Individuals, organizations and city departments rallied around the idea of renovating the memorial, including Frisco City Council member and U.S. Army veteran John Keating, the Frisco Veterans Advisory Committee, Frisco VFW Post 8273, the American Legion Peter J Courcy Post 178, the Frisco Lakes Veterans Group, Frisco Garden Club, Frisco Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Frisco Class XXIV, Frisco Community Development Corporation and Frisco Parks and Recreation Department. Together, they created a detailed plan for the renovation and formed a formal steering committee for the project.
After the plan was finalized and adopted last November, the renovation work began in earnest. A committee was formed to draft, design and procure new plaques for the memorial. The City of Frisco established a 501(c)3 organization to raise and manage funds for the renovation and its future maintenance.
The Frisco CDC donated $50,000 to fund the project, and Leadership Frisco Class XXIV members raised $60,000 to supplement the budget. Other in-kind donations helped round out the project. A local contractor, Elevated Roofing, donated nearly $45,000 of material and labor to refurbish a nearby pavilion. Members of the Frisco Garden Club donated labor and materials to improve the landscaping around the memorial, while Leadership Frisco Class members took the lead on creating a new suite of digital marketing products for the memorial, including an updated website, video and the creation of the QR codes.
Mr. Altman provided the Battlefield Cross centerpiece, which he had commissioned in 2019 for a different fundraising effort that was derailed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the idea arose for a new Frisco Veterans Memorial centerpiece, the sculpture “was perfect,” he says, calling it “a very special piece … to people who have served in combat, because it’s a reminder of people who paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
In the midst of combat, “When you’re not able to go home to the United States to attend a funeral of a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine … (the cross) is the way service members are able to say goodbye.” During battlefield memorial services, Mr. Altman explains, “People will go up and touch the boots or helmet or the dog tags of the person they lost – that sculpture is a very significant piece.”
The bulk of the physical improvements to the Frisco Veterans Memorial were spearheaded by the Frisco Parks and Recreation Department and were informed by input from the broader veterans’ community. With so many people involved, coordinating the renovation project proved challenging at times but, in the end, the community-led approach was beneficial.
“You had multiple different groups of people within the community working together on such a great project. That was very exciting,” Mr. Altman says, adding that plans are to establish the effort as a “case study” for Frisco and other cities throughout the state and nation “to look at this as a model” for how to go about improving communities.
The volunteers spoke in humble tones about their contributions, emphasizing that the project was a collaborative effort in which the responsibility was shared.
“To see all these groups come forward and not be concerned about who got credit is a great example of the whole concept of serving and being of service to the community,” Shannon Coates, director of Frisco’s Parks and Recreation Department, says. “We ended up with a project that so many people could learn from and be proud of.”
Many of those involved in the renovation had a personal connection to the military, including Brandon Johnson, a Leadership Frisco Class member. “My father is an Army veteran and so is my uncle,” he says. “I wanted to make sure we did it well.”
In a statement, Council Member Keating said, “On behalf of the City of Frisco, we extend our gratitude to all the businesses, community groups, veterans and citizen patriots alike who demonstrated positive patriotic action to ensure the success of this restoration project.”
Mr. Dillingham and others involved with the project believe that the improvements to the memorial will benefit veterans and the broader Frisco community. “It’s both for the people who served and for the citizens to educate themselves and their families on the value of sacrifice,” he said.
“I think people will be pleased with all the progress we were able to make as a community,” Melanie Hill, a member of the Leadership Frisco Class, says. “But don’t take our word for it. Go and see it for yourself.”
Steven Monacelli is a freelance journalist and editor based in Dallas. You can find him on Twitter, where he wastes too much time.