BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — WENHAM — The new veterans memorial has taken nearly seven years of effort, and at times competing interests battled over where it would go and what it would look like.
But yesterday morning under sunny skies, all of that controversy was put aside when the town broke ground on the first phase of a new monument honoring Wenham residents who served in the military during wartimes.
The ceremony took place on the “car barn lot” in the center of town along Route 1A at Arbor Street, across the street from Town Hall.
“It is so rewarding to see it actually take place now,” said former Selectman John Clemenzi. “It is a great recognition for those who have given so much.”
About 45 people, including veterans, members of the War Veterans Memorial Committee, selectmen, state lawmakers and others were on hand for the ceremony.
With contracts awarded and construction about to start, four stakes topped with orange ribbon marked the spot where the tall, granite marker will stand. A backhoe stood nearby, with a dozen shovels whose blades were spray-painted gold for the ceremony leaning against it.
“Today we think about a new effort,” said state Sen. Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, “an effort that will remind us every day about the men and women who have sacrificed so that we could defend the ideals that make us the greatest nation on the face of the earth.”
State Rep. Brad Hill of Ipswich said the town should be applauding the committee “for a job well done,” and those gathered broke out into applause.
A rendering of the monument, which is more than 17 feet tall, shows an obelisk, made of granite from Barry, Vermont, with bronze plaques at its base and a globe with an eagle landing on the United States, signifying veterans returning from varying parts of the world, said Bruce Blanchard, co-chairman of the War Veterans Memorial Committee.
The monument will be set amid a circular stone plaza with benches and bordered by plenty of greenery.
“I think it’s an excellent spot for it,” said Gordon Wildes, a former commander of the Essex Legion who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
He and his late brothers would be eligible to have their names on the monument. Their names are already on a wooden memorial that used to stand next to the old Town Hall. The marker was removed during renovations, said Blanchard. Because the wood rotted and needed replacing, a committee was tasked to replace the former memorial in November 2007, Blanchard said.
Why did the effort take so long?
“There were some concerns about where it would be located. There were people in town, you know, some wanted it across the street, some wanted it here,” said Hill, in an interview after the ceremony. “... They ultimately decided it would be here.”
Paying for the memorial also posed a challenge, and much of it was paid for through fundraising.
“The whole project, when it’s complete, will be about $240,000,” said Blanchard. A town press release pegged the cost at $219,000. The bulk of the money will be used to build the monument, Blanchard said, about $189,000. The rest will be used for landscaping.
Hill said the town put in some money, and the committee received state grants totaling $15,000 from the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services.
“We knew that this project needed and deserved state partnership,” Tarr said. “These days that’s difficult to find, given the tight state budgets that that we face and the fiscal constraints that we face. But we knew that if we could see this kind of effort develop locally, that the state just had to be a partner.”
Blanchard said businesses and private citizens stepped up. The committee is still looking to raise money for the final phase.
“We just couldn’t wait to get enough money to do it all at once,” Blanchard said, “so we felt the monument was the most important and we would start with that.”
To be named on the monument, veterans must have served honorably and have entered service from Wenham during World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Names of those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan will be included when Congress determines dates for those wars, Blanchard said.
The long wait for this monument was worth it, he added.
“These veterans gave whatever, some their lives and some just their livelihoods, but they should be honored,” Blanchard said. “It’s been a long process and a learning experience on my part, too.”
The sculptor and fabricator of the monument is veteran Mike Curtis of Idaho. Kim Ahearn is the landscape architect, said Town Administrator Mark Andrews, who called the monument “a good collaborative effort all around.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.