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Cottage Grove dedicates its first veterans memorial

Park High School Air Force Junior ROTC members salute at the Cottage Grove Veterans Memorial after raising flags representing the five military branches. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente

It's easy to see the Cottage Grove Veterans Memorial when walking into the new City Hall.

That is by design -- literally.

The new memorial near the front door to City Hall was designed as the focal point to the civic building, said Gary Bloedel, chairman of an advisory committee that worked on the memorial honoring U.S. military veterans and active-duty members.

The memorial and its symbolism was the focus of attention on Veterans Day in Cottage Grove as more than 100 people -- including dozens of local veterans -- gathered to formally dedicate the memorial and watch as eight flags were hoisted into a stiff and biting late-fall wind.

The City Hall building was opened last month, but city officials wanted to wait until Veterans Day on Sunday, Nov. 11, to dedicate the memorial, Cottage Grove's first designated space honoring its veterans.

There are roughly 2,600 military veterans in Cottage Grove and 16,000 in Washington County.

"This is a small token of our appreciation that the city is giving back to you," said Mayor Myron Bailey, who was joined by city and county officials. "It has been long overdue."

Bailey said there was talk over many years of creating a veterans memorial. A volunteer advisory committee started meeting more than 1 1/2 years ago to begin reviewing veterans memorial design concepts, Bloedel said. They settled on the memorial's design by early last year, as the city also was designing the City Hall building.

The memorial's circular design depicts the interdependence and relationship of the five military branches -- Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. There is a flag and a plaque on a limestone base for each military branch, placed in order of their establishment more than 200 years ago. The plaques' bronze material symbolizes strength, durability and integrity, Bloedel said.

Stone pavers separate the plaques from a fountain in the center of the memorial. The illuminated fountain signifies strength and resolve from within.

Limestone benches around the memorial were provided as a place for people to rest and contemplate the memorial's meaning to them. Each feature of the memorial may mean something different to different people, Bloedel said.

"As a whole of the parts, the memorial stands as a sign of gratitude from our community," said Bloedel, who also is chairman of the Cottage Grove Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Network. That group assists the families of deployed service members.

The dedication featured an honor guard procession from the Air Force Reserve 934th Honor Guard, and students in Park High School's Air Force Junior ROTC program raised the flags of the five military branches. The high school's brass quintet performed.

City Council member Jen Peterson led the memorial dedication. A daughter of two former Marines, a former wife of an Army soldier and now the mother of a National Guard serviceman, Peterson used the dedication to thank veterans but also to reach out to them and their families.

Peterson encouraged families of deployed military members to seek out the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Network if they need help during a deployment.

The dedication concluded with dozens of veterans gathering in the center of the memorial for photographs.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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