Rededicated memorial opened up hearts, pockets

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Photo by Sue Suchyta

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Wyandotte Mayor Joseph Peterson, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-13th District) and Natalie Rankine, the city’s special projects coordinator, put hands over their hearts May 31 during the flag raising ceremony following the rededication of the statue at the Purple Heart Memorial Garden.

By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – Monday’s rededication of the city’s Purple Heart Monument marked the commitment of a community, local officials say.

Mayor Joseph Peterson told a crowd surrounding the war veterans monument at the intersection of Biddle Avenue and Superior Boulevard that the ceremony was a celebration of what people can achieve when they work together.

Dedicated in 1943, the statue was taken from the site a couple of years ago after decades of being buffeted by the elements and was cast professionally in bronze. Finding the money to do that, return it to its home and update the Memorial Garden that lies alongside it, however, seemed like a daunting task in difficult financial times.

But at about 4 p.m., the rain stopped for a few hours while veterans, families and public servants gathered to rededicate the sculpture, the new landscaping, and the Walk of Honor comprising memorial paving bricks bearing the names of loved ones and have helped make the project financially possible.

The statue’s first dedication was made by Gov. Harry Kelly on June 6, 1943. It was designed and sculpted by Isadore DeBiasi of River Rouge out of limestone, a medium selected to honor the servicemen and women of Michigan.

The new bronze statue features the original design, a U.S. soldier caring for his wounded brother in arms, and will better resist the elements.

When city Special Projects Coordinator Natalie Rankine heard how much it would cost to restore the statue and the site, she was more than a little anxious about the prospects for success, especially in a state as hard hit economically as Michigan.

“I had little faith that this would actually happen,” she said.

However, volunteers from architects to landscapers to children at Garfield Elementary School to senior citizens in local high-rises, people volunteered their help throughout the process.

“The Bible says that faith the size of a mustard seed will move mountains, and that was about all I had,” Rankine said. “I really could not have picked a more difficult time to raise money right now. The economy is horrible, and this project has been my very own little mountain.”

She thanked her family, professional colleagues, businesses and all who donated time, talent or resources.

Rankine added that it was “nothing short of a miracle” that the rain stopped between when it did that day.

“It definitely has something to do with divine intervention,” she said.

Donors raised over $250,000, and many more contributed their time and professional services, from architects to fundraisers. Residents helped raise money. Others bought the bricks to help cover renovation costs. Over 500 pavers were purchased, engraved, and placed in the newly redesigned and restored memorial garden.

Peterson, a Vietnam War veteran, recalled the spirit of fallen comrades.

“For many years I never talked with my son about what happened in Vietnam when he asked me, and I boxed everything up — including my Bronze Star — and put it away,” he said. “Sitting next to this statue, it’s almost like ‘A Wonderful Life’ how something just came over you, because it sent a new vibration through my whole body.

“I will never again feel sorry for myself. I will be thankful that I came back in one piece.”

Also on hand were veterans groups and active duty military who served as color guards and to provide the honorary rifle salute. Participating groups included members of the Michigan Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 219, the Polish League of American Veterans Posts 74 and 217, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1136, and the Vietnam Veterans of America Downriver Post 259.

Boy Scouts from troops 1721 and 175 served as flag bearers. The Roosevelt High School a capella choir sang the national anthem, and the marching band accompanied them and played other patriotic music before the ceremony.

The Rev. Walter Ptak of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church offered the invocation. The Rev. John Landis of the First Congregation Church provided the closing invocation.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick joined Peterson, City Council members and other city officials for Monday’s ceremony. Kilpatrick presented an American flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol.

Engraved pavers still are available for purchase in the garden. Forms are available online at www.wyandotte.net or through the museum office at 2624 Biddle Ave. For more information call (734) 324-7297.

(Contact Sue Suchyta at sue.suchyta@yahoo.com.)

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