- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2020

HARTINGTON, Neb. (AP) - Dan Kathol likens Hartington’s efforts to build a memorial to honor its veterans to a car that had run out of gas.

For years, the desire was there, but volunteers just couldn’t get the project’s engine started. The gas tank was empty.

When an offer was made last summer to donate a vacant downtown lot as the site for a memorial, the tank filled up.

“That gave us the fuel to get this thing going,” Kathol told the Sioux City Journal.

The engine’s been revving ever since, and the Hartington Area Veterans Memorial project shifted into a higher gear this past weekend with a ceremonial ground breaking. Site preparation is slated to begin in June. Construction is planned to stretch over two years, Kathol said, with a goal for dedication on Veterans Day 2021.

It’s time this journey was completed, said Kathol, chairman and treasurer of the Hartington Area Veterans Memorial committee.

“We really needed one,” the National Guard veteran said. “We’re the largest town (in the county), the county seat, and we didn’t have a memorial to honor our veterans.”

It wasn’t for lack of desire. Discussions about building a memorial surfaced during construction of the Cedar County Courthouse annex, which was completed in 2009. Plans never materialized, and other towns in the county moved forward with construction of their own memorials.

With no site for a memorial in hand, talks of a Hartington memorial idled until last summer, when veterinarians Ben and Erin Schroeder offered up a vacant lot they owned at the corner of Broadway Avenue and State Street. Members of the town’s three veterans organizations — the American Legion, VFW and AmVets — met and, realizing this was the town’s best chance to finally get a veterans memorial, accepted the offer in October.

Planning has been at full speed since then, said Kathol, who volunteered as project manager.

After visiting memorials in about a dozen other Nebraska communities, Kathol developed ideas for Hartington’s design.

Impressed with life-sized bronze figures seen at other memorials, Hartington’s design includes a bronze soldier kneeling at a monument in which “A Soldier’s Prayer” will be engraved. A second bronze soldier will be kneeling and embracing a folded American flag before the bronze helmet, rifle and boots that mark the tribute to a fallen soldier.

Other monuments will honor each branch of the armed services and Hartington’s veterans organizations. A kiosk will list the nation’s wars and the number of casualties each side suffered. Other bits of history will be included, giving visitors plenty to read so they might spend more than just a five-minute walk through the memorial, Kathol said.

“My whole goal is to make this memorial very educational to kids,” he said.

Six granite monuments bearing the names of all Hartington area veterans who have served in the military from the Civil War to the present will stand in the middle of the memorial.

Kathol has compiled a list of some 1,500 veterans from Hartington and the surrounding communities of Fordyce, Menominee, St. Helena, Obert, Maskell and Bow Valley to be engraved on those monuments. His goal is to find family or friends to sponsor each name for $150. Folks can “adopt” a name for the same amount. About 400 names have been sponsored thus far.

“The challenge is trying to come up with a sponsor for each one of those veterans,” Kathol said.

It’s one of the many challenges of raising a projected $300,000 for the memorial and an endowment to pay for future maintenance and upkeep.

Kathol said fundraising is off to a good start despite the economic impact the coronavirus pandemic has had. He hopes conditions have improved by August, when a major fundraising campaign begins.

With site work well underway by then, Kathol expects donors to keep the fundraising efforts fueled.

“People are so happy and excited we’ve got a veterans memorial going up,” he said.

That excitement fuels Kathol’s optimism that Hartington and area residents will rise to the challenge and see to it that the project doesn’t run out of gas again.

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