- Associated Press - Thursday, September 10, 2015

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) - A 35-foot space between two sets of bronze figures in Darrough Chapel Park signifies the separation of deployed troops from their families and captures the array of emotions that comes with it.

The new Blue/Gold Star Family Memorial, which was installed Tuesday, features a child, woman and man gathered together, the child tucked into the woman’s skirt and the man with his hands placed protectively on the woman’s shoulders. Her arm is outstretched toward a fourth figure - a Marine with a gun slung over his back, also reaching toward the woman, positioned on the other side of the cement area that houses the monument.

“Even though he’s a Marine, he represents all the branches,” explained Jerry Paul, the visionary behind the memorial. “The woman is the heartbeat of the family. . She represents all women in a serviceman’s life. . We need to remember, it’s not just those who serve. It’s those who support and sacrifice to protect our nation.”

Those figures are meant to symbolize all types of family dynamics - grandparents, children, spouses and parents - and the challenges they face on the home front while their loved ones are deployed, Paul said. Blue Star Families is a national support network for families adapting to the unique demands of military life, and Gold Star status is reserved for those who have lost a family member on duty.

A dedication ceremony for the Blue/Gold Star Family Memorial will take place Sunday at Darrough Chapel Park. Paul, president of the volunteer Howard County Veterans Memorial Corporation board, will offer remarks and introduce sculptor Benjamin Victor, Mayor Greg Goodnight will make a proclamation recognizing the memorial, and Jeff Handy, financial secretary for the veteran memorial board, will act as master of ceremony.

This monument has been six years in the works. Originally, community members submitted design ideas for the memorial, but after a year went by and little progress was made, Paul took on a more active role in making sure the idea became reality.

He came up with the design and used local people as models for the figures. Seth Handy, an active Marine from Russiaville, posed for the serviceman statue; his father is Jeff Handy, who has been active in raising support for the monument. Jeff Handy’s niece, Lily Lewis, now 10, posed for the bronze child figure, the woman is based on Jessica Rhum, and the man is based on Bob Keel.

It’s unusual for someone to come to him with a completed design, said sculptor Benjamin Victor, and he considered it a privilege to use his skills to pay tribute to veterans and their families.

“The key I was inspired by is (Paul) is a veteran, and he knows the heart of veterans,” said Victor, who is from Boise, Idaho, and made his first trip to Kokomo this week for the sculpture installation. “This is the highest honor to get to use my talent to honor the men and women who have served our country. I just can’t imagine a more worthy cause.”

Watching as the 1,000-pound results of his labor were positioned and secured in the ground Tuesday, Victor said he hopes viewers understand the piece is meant to portray the range of experiences of military families.

“I hope they feel that distance,” he said. “The family, they’re here, they’re missing that loved one and there’s the anxiety of, ‘Are they coming back?’ and also that loss.”

Seeing the monument finally installed was emotional for members of the Howard County Veterans Memorial Corporation board. They organized countless fundraisers and received support from the Community Foundation of Howard County, the VFW post 1152, American Legion post 317 and the Local 685 to come up with $220,000 to commission the statues and another $70,000 to prepare the setting for the monument.

“I’m deeply honored and moved,” said Jeff Handy about seeing his son’s likeness immortalized in the memorial. “It means a lot to honor the families of veterans, and to have my family help do the honoring definitely is a privilege for me.”


Source: Kokomo Tribune, https://bit.ly/1JW0OMX


Information from: Kokomo Tribune, https://www.ktonline.com

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