Saluting our veterans in grand fashion

This year the grand marshal of the Freedom Fest parade will be plural as the members of the Veterans Memorial Committee were given that honor. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

They’ve spent the past 20 years working to erect a veterans memorial in Austin, and last year they succeeded; this year, members of the Mower County Veterans Memorial Committee will serve as grand marshals for the Freedom Fest parade.

Norm Hecimovich, chair of the committee, said the committee members feel honored to be chosen as grand marshals and are hoping to raise awareness of the Mower County Veterans Memorial they’ve been piecing together in recent years.

“They’ve tried to select people or groups (as grand marshals) that have contributed to the community — people that have gone above and beyond,” Hecimovich said. “This is one way of honoring people who have done that.

“We want to raise awareness of the people who have served this country and nobody might have known.”

Committee member Mike Ruzek said he feels honored and is proud of his fellow committee members and the memorial, because “some people thought it wouldn’t fly” when the group began the project.

The memorial sits at the corner of Main Street and Second Street NE in downtown Austin. What began as a half-finished memorial with no flags or granite pavers has become a place frequented by veterans or those who want to honor veterans. The memorial now boasts of more than 750 pavers with veterans’ names carved in them, eight flags and a bronze statue. Hecimovich said the goal is to sell 1,056 pavers, and the money will go to replacing a statue that once stood in the center of the memorial but was damaged last fall.

Although there is only enough space for 1,056 pavers, Hecimovich said he wants to find more room so nobody is excluded.

“I don’t want to ever shut off this project,” he said. “Somewhere we’ll find space for you to be put.”

More than 750 pavers are installed at the Mower County Veterans Memorial.

Ruzek and Hecimovich agreed the Fourth of July is a time to reflect on the freedoms Americans have and be grateful to all veterans for fighting for that freedom.

“It’s an opportunity to reflect on what our veterans have done — those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who have taken time out of their lives to serve this country,” Ruzek said. “(The memorial) is an opportunity for grandparents to bring their grandkids and have the kids ask, ‘What are these pavers all about?’”

Hecimovich sees people milling about the memorial nearly every day and hopes more will visit it during Freedom Fest.

“This is our time we have to honor our country and our freedoms we take for granted,” he said. “When you live in Austin … you drive down the street and don’t even know there’s a war going on because of our freedoms. (The memorial) has been a good project; it certainly can be a contribution to all the veterans.”

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